Every once in a while I find myself engaged in heated (yet consummately professional) arguments over the design and functionality of app screens with interested parties. These arguments, while occasionally contentious, almost never involve the involuntary stomping of a frustrated foot, the unfettered deployment of the f-bomb, or the weaponization of a shoe. Oh, and just so we’re clear: I win ALL the arguments.

Many of these “friendly discussions” stem from uncertainty about how users will interpret and interact with onscreen elements. And while everybody tends to form strong opinions about these things, I don’t mind admiting there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

But if you do need to find out, once and for all, exactly who is the MOST right about a particular screen configuration (and who, by extension, is winning at life the most) – it’s common practice to settle the matter by engaging in user testing.

User testing comes in many flavors, ranging from asking strangers and friends informal questions: “hey there, random person in the elevator! What do you think about tab bar navigation?” to elaborate setups with one-way mirrors, cushy chairs, and salty snacks: “please just take a seat, the interviewer will be with you shortly.” But no matter how you slice it, user testing is the touchstone of the coveted I told you so moment because it is made of science and therefore infallible.

All kidding aside, there are moments when you need to find out where people are tapping on your screens like a heroin addict needs a fix, and detailed analytics just aren’t available. This is why I experienced both surprise and delight when I stumbled across a service called Plunk (by ZURB) that allows app designers to set up quick user testing experiments.

Here’s how it works. You upload a jpg or png screenshot 320px wide to plunkapp.com, then enter the task you want users to perform. You draw a hotspot on the target you’re hoping people will tap (to prove they’re picking up what you’re putting down and operating on your preferred wavelength). Then, Plunk generates two URL’s: one for the test that you can distribute via Twitter, Facebook, email, or whatever; and one linking to the results.

Results are collected for a period of 48 hours from the start of the test and include: how many people responded, the average time it took them to decide where to tap, and the overall success rate. But the best part is that Plunk shows you EXACTLY where everybody tapped with big red semi-transparent circles! I love semi-transparent circles.

I wish the service accommodated tablet-sized screenshots and that you could set the pixel width to test Android devices. It’s also shockingly easy to lose the results of your experiment if you forget to record the URLs somewhere (something I found out the hard way). But over all, I think Plunk is a great tool that makes it easy and fun … to prove incontrovertibly that I am always right.

Useful Links​



(originally published on BAD YEWEX)