Guerrilla usability testing

Learn about guerrilla usability testing, its benefits and drawbacks, and gain practical insights on how to conduct efficient tests in public spaces to gather valuable feedback and enhance your designs.

Guerrilla usability testing

In-person usability testing can sometimes be time-consuming. It involves vetting and recruiting participants, scheduling sessions, and organizing a testing location.

 But usability testing doesn’t always have to be a formal and lengthy process. Guerrilla usability testing, as the name implies, provides a quick way to gather insights and put them into action.

In this article, we’ll explore what guerrilla usability testing is, its benefits and drawbacks, and how to conduct such tests. We’ll also provide tips and guidance to help you make the most of this quick testing method. Whether you’re pressed for time or working with limited resources, guerrilla usability testing can provide valuable feedback to enhance your designs.

Guerrilla usability testing - a photograph of a coffee shop taken from above

Guerrilla usability testing, sometimes referred to as hallway testing, is an informal and spontaneous approach to usability testing that takes place in public spaces, away from environments like testing labs. It involves approaching random people in places like cafes, parks, and college campuses and asking them to test your product and provide feedback.

It’s a cost-effective and efficient way to gather insights from a diverse group of people and quickly identify usability issues. The goal is to gather real-world feedback in a natural setting, allowing for valuable insights and rapid improvements to your product.

What are the benefits of guerrilla usability testing?

Involving random individuals instead of a curated test group lets you gather unexpected and fresh opinions (although that’s sometimes not always for the best – but we’ll get to that later). It requires minimal setup, requiring only one or two team members and about 10–15 minutes per test. And once you pack up your laptop, notebooks, and other materials at the end of the day, you’ll have hopefully gathered a wealth of insights to analyze. 

Guerrilla usability testing can be conducted affordably. It requires minimal gear, although you might need to come prepared with some gift cards or buy coffees for those giving you their time. 

It also allows for a quick testing process with immediate feedback, making it ideal for resource-constrained startups.

What are the drawbacks of guerrilla usability testing?


Guerrilla usability testing - a photograph of a laptop, a cup of coffee, a notepad and pen

While guerrilla usability testing offers advantages, there are also drawbacks to consider. The spontaneous and informal nature means you can’t guarantee that everyone you approach will want to participate. Instead of the assurance of a willing group that has opted in to testing, your pool of potential participants is smaller. There are also many variables beyond your control in public settings, which can have a big impact on the quality and type of feedback you receive.

Below are some other drawbacks to consider.

You’re relying on diverse thoughts and opinions

With more formal usability testing, you have some control over which participants to select based on specific demographics. In guerrilla usability testing, you rely on people who are willing to participate, and they may not match your target audience, which can give you results that aren’t relevant. 

In-person or remote usability testing has greater depth and context, which can generate higher-quality results that’s likely to be more applicable to what you’re designing.

You can’t control your testing environment 

Talking people into volunteering for an unknown activity can be tough. They may have other commitments or become annoyed that they agreed to participate. The environment is. also out of your control – public spaces can be noisy and filled with distractions that may have a negative impact on participants’ engagements.

It can be difficult to ask follow-up questions

Guerrilla usability testing allows only a narrow slice of time to gather impressions, often without room for follow-up questions or in-depth discussions. This may not allow for a comprehensive understanding of your participants’ perspectives. 

How to conduct guerrilla usability testing

Guerrilla usability testing - an infographic showing how to conduct guerrilla usability testing

When it comes to conducting guerrilla usability testing, a streamlined and efficient approach is key. In this section, we'll explore the step-by-step process of conducting effective guerrilla usability tests. 

Define your goals

In guerrilla usability testing, the time frame is short, so focus on a single goal. Choose one specific aspect you want to explore and determine the type of feedback you need. 

Along with defining your goals, you should identify the criteria for a positive outcome. 

Minimize your scope

Guerrilla usability testing offers a small window of time between you and your test participants. Don’t throw an overwhelming amount of tasks at them. Keep things simple, like asking them to complete a single action. Limiting the scope also helps you run efficient tests that don’t run overtime. 

Identify a testing location

Find a public space that attracts the type of people who will be likely to use your product. Scout out where you’d like to run your tests, making sure that it’s not too noisy, and that where you can talk to your participants with a bit of privacy that won’t distract other customers. 

When conducting guerrilla usability tests in a public place, it’s generally a good practice to seek permission whenever possible. 

Source your participants

Chat with people hanging out or entering the testing location you’ve identified and find out if they’d like to spend a few minutes conducting your test. Let them know who you are, explain what the test will involve, what type of feedback you’re after. Give them an honest estimate of the amount of time the test is going to take. Try and wrangle a wide range of participants to gather diverse perspectives.

Conduct your usability tests

Let participants loose on your prototype or design. Give them instructions and be clear about the task you’re asking them to complete. They may need to be reassured that you’re not testing them, you’re testing the prototype, and are looking for honest feedback and any thoughts and feelings they have. 

With permission, you may want to capture screen or audio recordings, as well as jot down notes and observations throughout the testing process.

Analyze your results

Review the data you’ve collected and look for common challenges, comments, and issues that come up again and again. Identify common themes linked to usability and see where there are problem areas. From here, you can then put these insights into action and make changes to your design. 

Guerrilla usability testing is a quick and simple alternative

While it will never replace more comprehensive testing, guerrilla usability testing provides a quick process for conducting tests and getting feedback. If you’re crunched for time or don’t have a lot of resources, guerrilla usability testing can be an effective way to gather the information needed to improve your designs.

Once your design is ready for further testing and iteration, try UsabilityHub for quick and efficient usability testing. Our user-friendly platform makes it easy to source participants, conduct remote unmoderated tests, and analyze results seamlessly. Sign up for a free plan to try it out for yourself.

Frequently asked questions about guerrilla usability testing

What is guerrilla usability testing?

Guerrilla usability testing, also known as hallway testing, is an informal and spontaneous approach to usability testing that takes place in public spaces. It involves approaching random individuals and asking them to test a product or design, providing valuable feedback in a natural setting.‍

What are the pros and cons of guerrilla usability testing?

On the positive side, guerrilla usability testing allows you to gather unexpected and fresh opinions, requires minimal setup and resources, and provides quick feedback for rapid improvements. It’s also cost-effective and offers a natural setting for real-world feedback. However, there are drawbacks to consider, such as the lack of control over participant selection and potential mismatch with the target audience. Variables in public settings, difficulty in establishing comprehensive dialogue, and distractions are additional challenges. By weighing these pros and cons, you can determine if guerrilla usability testing is suitable for your specific testing goals and constraints.

How do you conduct a guerrilla usability test?

To conduct a guerrilla usability test, start by defining your goals and narrowing down the scope of the test to focus on something specific. Find a suitable testing location that attracts potential users and approach random individuals to participate. Provide clear instructions and let participants interact with your prototype or design while encouraging honest feedback. Capture data through recordings and notes during the test. Finally, analyze the collected data to identify common challenges and themes for improving your designs.

Jeff Cardello is a freelance writer who loves all things tech and design. Outside of being a word nerd, he enjoys playing bass guitar, riding his bike long distances, and recently started learning about data science and how to code with Python.

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