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I'm a designer for a health tech startup that makes applications for orthopedic providers, and a recurring issue I have is extremely limited access to users for research and testing. Due in part to incredibly busy work schedules, protective account managers, and interview fatigue, opportunities for valuable facetime with users are sparse. This is especially relevant now because I'm focussed on optimized on existing service within the platform that's geared toward a kind of esoteric (albeit critical) provider role, with only about 40 existing users. But given the challenges stated above, I'll be lucky if I can nab 8 for interviews and testing; but even those users won't be reliable data set, since many of these providers belong to different health systems, and therefore use this existing tool for vastly different workflows.

A solution I'm considering is to reach out to providers in this role who aren't customers of my company, who don't use our application. I could see this being fine for interviews, but I'm wondering if this will be problematic for usability testing, since I'd essentially be gauging the effectiveness of my designs based on the performance of people who aren't the end-users.

Has anyone here experienced a similar problem? Whether you have or not, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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Totally! Even though some people practitioners accuse this practice of being "ux theater" a common usage of personas is using them to have non-users perform testing while pretending to be different user personas. Many, many times I have done non-user testing with stakeholders playing as users to build awareness and grow the understanding of UX within different organizations. If you break your usability testing into test like the 5 Second test or One-click test it really shouldn't even matter if you're using real end-users.

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The short answer is: It is fine for the scenario you described, assuming that the term usability testing was used consciously.

Quoting from Wikipeda:

[Usability Testing] is more concerned with the design intuitiveness of the product and tested with users who have no prior exposure to it.

Usability testing is best used to answer the question Is this product usable? (aka can users can use the product?). For this purpose it's not absolutely necessary to test with the target group.

However, usability testing is not great for answering the question Is this product useful?. If more insight into the potential product/market fit and success of a product is needed, tests with other methods and real users are better.

Since this is about an existing product with real users, access to actual product usage data and customer feedback can be very helpful to create hypothesis on potential optimizations. Maybe there is also an opportunity to develop a beta version and get real users to test it?

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i believe this is fine. Even if they are not customers currently they may become customers in the future. It also depends on exactly what you are testing. it might have to prepare the user before the test, where you would describe a scenario and ask them to put themselves in the shoes of a certain kind of a persona that you maybe wanting to test.

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Yes. You can (and absolutely should) conduct research with non-customers.

In some cases, like creating a new product, you might not have any customers and must, by necessity, test with non-customers. In other cases, you may just want a fresh perspective from someone who hasn't used the system before.

When recruiting for research participants, look for people who fit a specific behavioral profile. Every product has a set of problems it is trying to solve, and you want participants who experience those problems.

The first step is to detail the problem and behaviors/attitudes. For example, let's say I am creating a new app that helps split a restaurant bill with others.

Problem:

  • Calculating each person’s share of a bill based on what they ordered

For research participants, I want people who experience this problem and have specific behaviors and attitudes:

Behaviors/Attitudes:

  • Eats at restaurants with other people
  • Is in situations where the bill is not split for the table
  • Wants to only pay for what they ordered

Focusing on behaviors means you'll test with the right folks, regardless of whether they are a customer.

Here is a great article with more details on why conducting research with non-users is a good idea: Why you need to test UX with non-users

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