In User Experience (UX), we spend a lot of time analysing how users will interact with our digital creations. Before the piece goes live, we scrutinise a variety of levels of prototype fidelity. Once the piece is out in the wild, we monitor user behaviour through a variety of tools, including Hotjar, Google Analytics and social listening. If anything, digital content is positively luxurious in its flexibility, rapid adjustment times and the minimal cost required to make a change.
But what about DM? In comparison, the trail of user behaviour goes cold. How do we analyse how a book, a pamphlet or catalogue is received, rather than just hoping we nailed the initial strategy and relying on our design expertise? We know from digital web design the cost of bad design and the value that testing with your users can give your product. Print pieces require a lot of commitment from everyone involved. Copy and design need to hit the right touchpoints the first time, as there often isn’t an opportunity to tweak or edit without costly reruns.
This is where UX research can step in and change unknown unknowns to known unknowns before the piece is even rolled out. One-on-one interviews with your target users can validate the idea, flag any areas for further content development, inform whether certain aspects of information or tone need dialling up or down, or even which sections, if any, could be removed or were missed out and rapidly need building into the piece.
There’s certainly a lot of value to be gained by UX testing the DM piece. Here are four tips for getting the most out of the sessions where you put the content in front of a test audience to gain vital feedback ahead of the print run.
1. Give participants the piece a few days in advance of the session
By letting your participants receive the piece in their own home environment, you give them time to read and absorb the content at their own pace in the setting in which the final version will also be consumed. This is especially important if the content’s purpose is to teach something, or if it is particularly lengthy.
It also enables a more productive conversation during the session, as the participant will already have a degree of familiarity with the content and can assess how it has met their expectations.
2. Prepare for people who haven’t read the piece, even though you gave it to them in advance
Even if you give the content to participants before the session, there’s always going to be one person who shows up and didn’t have any time/forgot to read it/the dog ate it, etc. Plan for this circumstance and build some buffer time into your interview, so that you can leave the participant alone with another printed copy for an appropriate amount of time.
3. Test with what will land on someone’s doorstep (or as close as you can)
To test effectiveness it’s important that you test with the final print-ready piece, including any print material or postage envelopes that are intended to be included in the posted version. This enables you to get feedback on the full experience of receiving it in the post, and the perceived quality and expectations set up before someone even opens the envelope.
You’ll be surprised at how much influence paper stock quality and finish could have on your user’s perceived value of the final product.
4. Separate top-line finds from the nitty-gritty design and copy tweaks
When testing content with users, a mountain of minor tweaks can arise, which can make it difficult to analyse and discover larger themes within the results. It can be easy to get distracted by the sheer quantity of tweaks, which can make it difficult to cut out the key themes and research findings.
Your colleagues and client will thank you if you have two versions of results – a presentation documenting the overarching results, and a further annotated document with copy and design amends, which can be discussed directly with the relevant team.
In a nutshell…
Hopefully this gives some insight into the value that UX research can provide, not just for digital, but print too. Research is not intended to add delay, nor additional expense, but it is to ensure that the item you are creating and investing in (because DM ain’t always cheap) is going to resonate with the people whose doorstep the content will land on.