Usability Testing

Your constantly-updated definition of Usability Testing and collection of videos and articles

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is the practice of testing how easy a design is to use with 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. It is often conducted repeatedly, from early development until a product’s release.

“It’s about catching customers in the act, and providing highly relevant and highly contextual information.”

— Paul Maritz, CEO at Pivotal

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Usability Testing Leads to the Right Products

Through usability testing, you can find design flaws you might otherwise overlook. When you watch how test users behave while they try to execute tasks, you’ll get vital insights into how well your design/product works. Then, you can leverage these insights to make improvements. Whenever you run a usability test, your chief objectives are to:

1) Determine whether testers can complete tasks successfully and independently.

2) Assess their performance and mental state as they try to complete tasks, to see how well your design works.

3) See how much users enjoy using it.

4) Identify problems and their severity.

5) Find solutions.

While usability tests can help you create the right products, they shouldn’t be the only tool in your UX research toolbox. If you just focus on the evaluation activity, you won’t improve the usability overall.

There are different methods for usability testing. Which one you choose depends on your product and where you are in your design process.

Usability Testing is an Iterative Process

To make usability testing work best, you should:

1) Plan

a. Define what you want to test. Ask yourself questions about your design/product. What aspect/s of it do you want to test? You can make a hypothesis from each answer. With a clear hypothesis, you’ll have the exact aspect you want to test.

b. Decide how to conduct your test – e.g., remotely. Define the scope of what to test (e.g., navigation) and stick to it throughout the test. When you test aspects individually, you’ll eventually build a broader view of how well your design works overall.

2) Set user tasks

a. Prioritize the most important tasks to meet objectives (e.g., complete checkout), no more than 5 per participant. Allow a 60-minute timeframe.

b. Clearly define tasks with realistic goals.

c. Create scenarios where users can try to use the design naturally. That means you let them get to grips with it on their own rather than direct them with instructions.

3) Recruit testers – Know who your users are as a target group. Use screening questionnaires (e.g., Google Forms) to find suitable candidates. You can advertise and offer incentives. You can also find contacts through community groups, etc. If you test with only 5 users, you can still reveal 85% of core issues.

4) Facilitate/Moderate testing –Set up testing in a suitable environment. Observe and interview users. Notice issues. See if users fail to see things, go in the wrong direction or misinterpret rules. When you record usability sessions, you can more easily count the number of times users become confused. Ask users to think aloud and tell you how they feel as they go through the test. From this, you can check whether your designer’s mental model is accurate: Does what you think users can do with your design match what these test users show?

If you choose remote testing, you can moderate via Google Hangouts, etc., or use unmoderated testing. You can use this software to carry out remote moderated and unmoderated testing and have the benefit of tools such as heatmaps.

Keep usability tests smooth by following these guidelines.

1) Assess user behavior – Use these metrics:

Quantitative – time users take on a task, success and failure rates, effort (how many clicks users take, instances of confusion, etc.)

Qualitative – users’ stress responses (facial reactions, body-language changes, squinting, etc.), subjective satisfaction (which they give through a post-test questionnaire) and perceived level of effort/difficulty

2) Create a test report – Review video footage and analyzed data. Clearly define design issues and best practices. Involve the entire team.

Overall, you should test not your design’s functionality, but users’ experience of it. Some users may be too polite to be entirely honest about problems. So, always examine all data carefully.

Learn More about Usability Testing

Take our course on usability testing.

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Here’s a quick-fire method to conduct usability testing.

See some real-world examples of usability testing.

Take some helpful usability testing tips.

Questions related to Usability Testing

How to conduct usability testing?

To conduct usability testing effectively:

  1. Start by defining clear, objective goals and recruit representative users.

  2. Develop realistic tasks for participants to perform and set up a controlled, neutral environment for testing.

  3. Observe user interactions, noting difficulties and successes, and gather qualitative and quantitative data.

  4. After testing, analyze the results to identify areas for improvement.

For a comprehensive understanding and step-by-step guidance on conducting usability testing, refer to our specialized course on Conducting Usability Testing.

When to do usability testing?

Conduct usability testing early and often, from the design phase to development and beyond. Early design testing uncovers issues when they are more accessible and less costly to fix. Regular assessments throughout the project lifecycle ensure continued alignment with user needs and preferences. Usability testing is crucial for new products and when redesigning existing ones to verify improvements and discover new problem areas. Dive deeper into optimal timing and methods for usability testing in our detailed article “Usability: A part of the User Experience.”

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Incorporate insights from William Hudson, CEO of Syntagm, to enhance usability testing strategies. William recommends techniques like tree testing and first-click testing for early design phases to scrutinize navigation frameworks. These methods are exceptionally suitable for isolating and evaluating specific components without visual distractions, focusing strictly on user understanding of navigation. They're advantageous for their quantitative nature, producing actionable numbers and statistics rapidly, and being applicable at any project stage. Ideal for both new and existing solutions, they help identify problem areas and assess design elements effectively.

How to do usability testing for mobile applications?

To conduct usability testing for a mobile application:

  1. Start by identifying the target users and creating realistic tasks for them.

  2. Collect data on their interactions and experiences to uncover issues and areas for improvement.

  3. For instance, consider the concept of ‘tappability’ as explained by Frank Spillers, CEO: focusing on creating task-oriented, clear, and easily tappable elements is crucial.

Employing correct affordances and signifiers, like animations, can clarify interactions and enhance user experience, avoiding user frustration and errors. Dive deeper into mobile usability testing techniques and insights by watching our insightful video with Frank Spillers.

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How many participants do you need for most usability tests?

For most usability tests, the ideal number of participants depends on your project’s scope and goals. Our video featuring William Hudson, CEO of Syntagm, emphasizes the importance of quality in choosing participants as it significantly impacts the usability test's results.

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He shares insightful experiences and stresses on carefully selecting and recruiting participants to ensure constructive and reliable feedback. The process involves meticulous planning and execution to identify and discard data from non-contributive participants and to provide meaningful and trustworthy insights are gathered to improve the interactive solution, be it an app or a website. Remember the emphasis on participant's attentiveness and consistency while performing tasks to avoid compromising the results. Watch the full video for a more comprehensive understanding of participant recruitment and usability testing.

How to analyze usability test results?

To analyze usability test results effectively, first collate the data meticulously. Next, identify patterns and recurrent issues that indicate areas needing improvement. Utilize quantitative data for measurable insights and qualitative data for understanding user behavior and experience. Prioritize findings based on their impact on user experience and the feasibility of implementation. For a deeper understanding of analysis methods and to ensure thorough interpretation, refer to our comprehensive guides on Analyzing Qualitative Data and Usability Testing. These resources provide detailed insights, aiding in systematically evaluating and optimizing user interaction and interface design.

Is usability testing qualitative or quantitative?

Usability testing is predominantly qualitative, focusing on understanding users' thoughts and experiences, as highlighted in our video featuring William Hudson, CEO of Syntagm. 

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It enables insights into users' minds, asking why things didn't work and what's going through their heads during the testing phase. However, specific methods, like tree testing and first-click testing, present quantitative aspects, providing hard numbers and statistics on user performance. These methods can be executed at any design stage, providing actionable feedback and revealing navigation and visual design efficacy.

How to do remote usability testing?

To conduct remote usability testing effectively, establish clear objectives, select the right tools, and recruit participants fitting your user profile. Craft tasks that mirror real-life usage and prepare concise instructions. During the test, observe users’ interactions and note their challenges and behaviors. For an in-depth understanding and guide on performing unmoderated remote usability testing, refer to our comprehensive article, Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing (URUT): Every Step You Take, We Won’t Be Watching You.

User testing vs usability testing - what's the difference?

Some people use the two terms interchangeably, but User Testing and Usability Testing, while closely related, serve distinct purposes. User Testing focuses on understanding users' perceptions, values, and experiences, primarily exploring the 'why' behind users' actions. It is crucial for gaining insights into user needs, preferences, and behaviors, as elucidated by Ann Blanford, an HCI professor, in our enlightening video. 

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She elaborates on the significance of semi-structured interviews in capturing users' attitudes and explanations regarding their actions. Usability Testing primarily assesses users' ability to achieve their goals efficiently and complete specific tasks with satisfaction, often emphasizing the ease of interface use. Balancing both methods is pivotal for comprehensively understanding user interaction and product refinement.

What are the benefits of usability testing?

Usability testing is crucial as it determines how usable your product is, ensuring it meets user expectations. It allows creators to validate designs and make informed improvements by observing real users interacting with the product. Benefits include:

  • Clarity and focus on user needs.

  • Avoiding internal bias.

  • Providing valuable insights to achieve successful, user-friendly designs. 

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By enrolling in our Conducting Usability Testing course, you’ll gain insights from Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics, extensive experience learning to develop test plans, recruit participants, and convey findings effectively.

Where to learn about usability testing?

Explore our dedicated Usability Expert Learning Path at Interaction Design Foundation to learn Usability Testing. We feature a specialized course, Conducting Usability Testing, led by Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics. This course imparts proven methods and practical insights from Frank's extensive experience, guiding you through creating test plans, recruiting participants, moderation, and impactful reporting to refine designs based on the results. Engage with our quality learning materials and expert video lessons to become proficient in usability testing and elevate user experiences!

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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 completely satisfied with the experience? What is the key feature that makes them come back? In this course, you will learn how to answer such questions—and with confidence too—as we teach you how to justify your answers with solid evidence.

Great usability is one of the key factors to keep your users engaged and satisfied with your website or app. It is crucial you continually undertake usability testing and perceive it as a core part of your development process if you want to prevent abandonment and dissatisfaction. This is especially important when 79% of users will abandon a website if the usability is poor, according to Google! As a designer, you also have another vital duty—you need to take the time to step back, place the user at the center of the development process and evaluate any underlying assumptions. It’s not the easiest thing to achieve, particularly when you’re in a product bubble, and that makes usability testing even more important. You need to ensure your users aren’t left behind!

As with most things in life, the best way to become good at usability testing is to practice! That’s why this course contains not only lessons built on evidence-based approaches, but also a practical project. This will give you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner, Frank Spillers, and carry out your own usability tests.

By the end of the course, you’ll have hands-on experience with all stages of a usability test project—how to plan, run, analyze and report on usability tests. You can even use the work you create during the practical project to form a case study for your portfolio, to showcase your usability test skills and experience to future employers!

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