When Should I Conduct Usability Testing for a Product?

Usability testing is an essential part of product development. A common question from those new to the field is “when should we test?” The answer is simple; you test before a redesign, you test during the redesign and then you test afterwards too. Here’s why:

Usability Testing Before a Redesign

This might sound silly because you know you’re going to do a redesign but usability testing of the existing product can provide all sorts of ideas for the redesign. It also means that you can identify the biggest pain points of the current offering and work to resolve them.

Author/Copyright holder: d_jan. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

We’d also encourage, budget and time permitting, you to look at competitor’s products and put them through usability tests too. This can tell you what works really well that you’re not doing yet and identify any areas which don’t work saving you time and effort trying these ideas yourselves.

Usability Testing During a Redesign

We know that during a redesign there’s no finished product to play with. This doesn’t stop you from testing sketches, wireframes and prototypes. This quick and dirty approach to usability testing can save a fortune in development time. Getting a user to run over a design before you put into production will let you know if an idea has the mileage to really be valuable or whether you’ve misinterpreted what users really wanted form the product.

Author/Copyright holder: K2_UX. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If the resources exist you should do this at every milestone of the project. If they don’t pick the most critical milestones and place your usability tests against those.

Usability Testing After a Redesign

Author/Copyright holder: K2_UX. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.

This is where most usability tests already occur. This is the time when you take that nice shiny new product and put it through its’ paces before a release. The objective is not to test the functionality (that’s normally a function of quality assurance) but to test the experience with that functionality. However, you are going to identify bugs, and niggles as well as experience issues. It’s a good idea to share those discoveries with the QA team so that they can add them to their tests (if they haven’t already).

Usability Testing and The Project Roadmap

There’s no point in conducting tests unless you’re going to use the results. That means usability testing needs to feature on the roadmap for release. You need time to conduct the tests, time to analyse the results, and time to put the findings into useful practice.

In particular, it’s very tempting to conduct the post-design testing a couple of days before launch. In reality it would be better to have a bigger window because if the experience is broken; it’s better to fix it prior to a launch than during the next iteration (whenever that may be).

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Esko Kurvinen. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC 2.0

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