The Beginner’s Guide to Usability Testing [+ Sample Questions]
In practically any discipline, it's a good idea to have others evaluate your work with fresh eyes, and this is especially true in user experience and web design. Otherwise, your partiality for your own work can skew your perception of it. Learning directly from the people that your work is actually for — your users — is what enables you to craft the best user experience possible.
UX and design professionals leverage usability testing to get user feedback on their product or website’s user experience all the time. In this post, you'll learn:
What usability testing is
What is the purpose of usability testing?
Usability testing allows researchers to uncover any problems with their product's user experience, decide how to fix these problems, and ultimately determine if the product is usable enough.
Identifying and fixing these early issues saves the company both time and money: Developers don’t have to overhaul the code of a poorly designed product that’s already built, and the product team is more likely to release it on schedule.
Benefits of Usability Testing
Usability testing has five major advantages over the other methods of examining a product's user experience (such as questionnaires or surveys):
- Usability testing provides an unbiased, accurate, and direct examination of your product or website’s user experience. By testing its usability on a sample of actual users who are detached from the amount of emotional investment your team has put into creating and designing the product or website, their feedback can resolve most of your team’s internal debates.
- Usability testing is convenient. To conduct your study, all you have to do is find a quiet room and bring in portable recording equipment. If you don’t have recording equipment, someone on your team can just take notes.
- Usability testing can tell you what your users do on your site or product and why they take these actions.
- Usability testing lets you address your product’s or website’s issues before you spend a ton of money creating something that ends up having a poor design.
- For your business, intuitive design boosts customer usage and their results, driving demand for your product.
Usability Testing Examples & Case Studies
Now that you have an idea of the scenarios in which usability testing can help, here are some real-life examples of it in action:
is a developer of education software, and their goal was to improve the experience of the site for their users. Consulting agency conducted a usability test focusing on one question: "If you were interested in Satchel's product, how would you progress with getting more information about the product and its pricing?"
During the test, User Fountain noted significant frustration as users attempted to complete the task, particularly when it came to locating pricing information. Only 80% of users were successful.
This led User Fountain to create the hypothesis that a "Get Pricing" link would make the process clearer for users. From there, they tested a new variation with such a link against a control version. The variant won, resulting in a 34% increase in demo requests.
By testing a hypothesis based on real feedback, friction was eliminated for the user, bringing real value to Satchel.
Ecommerce site approached consultant to uncover which site interactions had the highest success rates and what features those interactions had in common.
They conducted more than 120 tests and recorded:
- Click paths from each user
- Which actions were most common
- The success rates for each
This as well as the written and verbal feedback provided by participants informed the new design, which resulted in increasing purchaser success rates from 68.2% to 83.3%.
In essence, Digi-Key was able to identify their most successful features and double-down on them, improving the experience and their bottom line.
An academic medical center in the midwest partnered with consulting agency to improve the patient experience on their homepage, where some features were suffering from low engagement.
Sparkbox conducted a usability study to determine what users wanted from the homepage and what didn't meet their expectations. From there, they were able to propose solutions to increase engagement.
For example, one key action was the ability to access electronic medical records. The new design based on user feedback increased the success rate from 45% to 94%.
This is a great example of putting the user's pains and desires front-and-center in a design.
, but your participants should also closely resemble your actual user base. With such a small sample size, it’s hard to replicate your actual user base in your study.
To recruit the ideal participants for your study, create the most detailed and specific persona as you possibly can and incentivize them to participate with a gift card or another monetary reward.
Recruiting colleagues from other departments who would potentially use your product is also another option. But you don’t want any of your team members to know the participants because their personal relationship can create bias -- since they want to be nice to each other, the researcher might help a user complete a task or the user might not want to constructively criticize the researcher’s product design.
7. Conduct the study.
During the actual study, you should ask your participants to complete one task at a time, without your help or guidance. If the participant asks you how to do something, don’t say anything. You want to see how long it takes users to figure out your interface.
Asking participants to “think out loud” is also an effective tactic -- you’ll know what’s going through a user’s head when they interact with your product or website.
After they complete each task, ask for their feedback, like if they expected to see what they just saw, if they would’ve completed the task if it wasn’t a test, if they would recommend your product to a friend, and what they would change about it. This qualitative data can pinpoint more pros and cons of your design.
8. Analyze your data.
You’ll collect a ton of qualitative data after your study. Analyzing it will help you discover patterns of problems, gauge the severity of each usability issue, and provide design recommendations to the engineering team.
When you analyze your data, make sure to pay attention to both the users’ performance and their feelings about the product. It’s not unusual for a participant to quickly and successfully achieve your goal but still feel negatively about the product experience.
9. Report your findings.
After extracting insights from your data, report the main takeaways and lay out the next steps for improving your product or website’s design and the enhancements you expect to see during the next round of testing.
The 3 Most Common Types of Usability Tests
1. Hallway/Guerilla Usability Testing
This is where you set up your study somewhere with a lot of foot traffic. It allows you to ask randomly-selected people who have most likely never even heard of your product or website -- like passers-by -- to evaluate its user-experience.
2. Remote/Unmoderated Usability Testing
Remote/unmoderated usability testing has two main advantages: it uses third-party software to recruit target participants for your study, so you can spend less time recruiting and more time researching. It also allows your participants to interact with your interface by themselves and in their natural environment -- the software can record video and audio of your user completing tasks.
Letting participants interact with your design in their natural environment with no one breathing down their neck can give you more realistic, objective feedback. When you’re in the same room as your participants, it can prompt them to put more effort into completing your tasks since they don’t want to seem incompetent around an expert. Your perceived expertise can also lead to them to please you instead of being honest when you ask for their opinion, skewing your user experience's reactions and feedback.
3. Moderated Usability Testing
Moderated usability testing also has two main advantages: interacting with participants in person or through a video a call lets you ask them to elaborate on their comments if you don’t understand them, which is impossible to do in an unmoderated usability study. You’ll also be able to help your users understand the task and keep them on track if your instructions don’t initially register with them.