Usability Testing

User Experience (UX) topic overview/definition


What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is the practice of testing how easy a design is to use on a group of representative users. It usually involves observing users as they attempt to complete tasks and can be done for different types of designs, from user interfaces to physical products. It is often conducted repeatedly, from early development until a product’s release.

The main benefit and purpose of usability testing is to identify usability problems with a design as early as possible, so they can be fixed before the design is implemented or mass produced. As such, usability testing is often conducted on prototypes rather than finished products, with different levels of fidelity (i.e., detail and finish) depending on the development phase. Prototypes tend to be more primitive, low-fidelity versions (e.g., paper sketches) during early development, and then take the form of more detailed, high-fidelity versions (e.g., interactive digital mock-ups) closer to release.

In a typical usability test, a test moderator gives test participants a series of tasks that they must perform with the design. The tasks represent actions that an end user would typically carry out with the finished product. During the test, the moderator observes each participant’s actions, often also recording the test session on video. After analyzing the results of a usability test, the moderator reports on several points of interest that arose—these include issues such as the aspects of the design that caused problems and the severity of these problems, as well as places in the design that the participants particularly liked. Recognizing this potential to highlight difficulties and strong points in a design’s early versions is a vital part of a designer’s thought process. The broader the testing and the greater the number of matters raised, the stronger the likelihood that designers can craft more successful products.

Literature on Usability Testing

Here’s the entire UX literature on Usability Testing by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Usability Testing

Take a deep dive into Usability Testing with our course Conducting Usability Testing.

Do you know if your website or app is being used effectively? Are your users/customers completely satisfied with the experience? What is the key feature that makes them come back? In this course, you will learn methods by which to answer such questions, and with confidence, too—through being able to justify your answers with solid evidence.

Great usability is one of the key factors in keeping your users engaged and satisfied with your website or app. With 86% of time on mobiles being spent within apps1 and 79% of users abandoning websites if the usability is poor2, it is crucial that usability testing is continually undertaken and perceived as a core part of the development process in order to prevent abandonment and dissatisfaction. Hand in hand with that, designers have another vital duty—taking the time to step back so as to place the user back at the center of the development process and evaluate any underlying assumptions. Designers sometimes find spotting such things from within their product bubble hard; therefore, they need to conduct usability testing so as to ensure users aren’t left behind.

This course is built on evidence-based approaches, as well as solid evidence, distilled from decades of research and practice. The course is taught by the CEO of, Frank Spillers, who is a distinguished speaker, author, and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

All literature

7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques

7 Great, Tried and Tested UX Research Techniques

Thinking about conducting some user research? Wondering which techniques are most likely to provide useful results? Then look no further. We’ve compiled a list of 7 excellent techniques which are tried and tested and have been proven to deliver real value in UX projects. Let’s take a look at each technique and see what it is and why it works: T...

  • 2 weeks ago
How to Conduct a Cognitive Walkthrough

How to Conduct a Cognitive Walkthrough

Cognitive walkthroughs are used to examine the usability of a product. They are designed to see whether or not a new user can easily carry out tasks within a given system. It is a task-specific approach to usability (in contrast to heuristic evaluation which is a more holistic usability inspection). The idea is that if given a choice – most user...

  • 7 months ago
How to Conduct User Observations

How to Conduct User Observations

Observing users interacting with a product can be a great way to understand the usability of a product and to some extent the overall user experience. Conducting observations is relatively easy as it doesn’t require a huge amount of training and it can be relatively fast – depending on the sample size of users you intend to observe.Author/Copyri...

  • 7 months ago
Mobile Usability Research – The Important Differences from the Desktop

Mobile Usability Research – The Important Differences from the Desktop

It’s important to remember that while we may use the same methods for mobile usability research as we use for other types of usability research; the mobile environment is different to the environment at the desktop. This means being aware of the context and adapting research to take advantage of that context. It’s not so much learning new resear...

  • 4 months ago
It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It – Mobile App Usability Best Practices

It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It – Mobile App Usability Best Practices

There are best practices for mobile usability as there are best practices for usability on other platforms. These best practices are not a substitute for user research and usability testing; they are intended as a “quick start” guide to get your designs moving in the right direction. There are no absolute rules in usability design and your users...

  • 9 months ago
How to Recruit Users for Usability Studies

How to Recruit Users for Usability Studies

You’re going to need to conduct usability studies at some point during your design work. That may be for a product or for an information visualization but if you don’t know whether your outputs are usable – you cannot begin to guarantee a user experience. Usability testing is so important that even presidents get involved (above you’ll see Barac...

  • 3 months ago
Agile Usability Engineering

Ch 40: Agile Usability Engineering

Agile Usability Engineering is a concept to describe a combination of methods and practices of agile development and usability engineering. Therefore, this entry commences with a brief note on agile methods. In recent years, agile methods for software and web engineering have reached widespread acceptance in the community. In contrary to class...

Book chapter
Making Use of the Crowd – Social Proof and the User Experience

Making Use of the Crowd – Social Proof and the User Experience

Social proof (sometimes referred to as informational social influence) is a psychological concept. It refers to the tendency of human beings to follow the actions of others when making decisions and placing weight on those actions to assume “the correct decision”. It’s a concept that can be used in product design for the Internet and mobile web ...

  • 2 months ago
Four Assumptions for Usability Evaluations

Four Assumptions for Usability Evaluations

Usability is a vital part of the user experience as a whole. It’s vital for UX design teams to be able to assess whether a system they’ve developed is “usable”. When we say “usable” what we normally mean is the “extent to which a system is simple and enjoyable to use”. Yet, as with all simple concepts the reality of conducting usability evaluati...

  • 2 years ago
Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing (URUT) - Every Step You Take, We Won’t Be Watching You

Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing (URUT) - Every Step You Take, We Won’t Be Watching You

Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing (URUT) is a technique designed to help you overcome the downsides of moderated usability testing. While moderated usability testing is undeniably useful it suffers from the fact that it’s time consuming, it takes a lot of effort to recruit participants, the costs (due to all that time input) are usually too h...

  • 1 year ago