Usability Testing – The Complete Guide

Usability testing is an ultimate method of uncovering any type of issue related to a system's ease of use, and it truly is a must for any modern website or app owner.

We designers often tend to confuse our personal experience with the service or product with our customer’s wants and needs. The truth is, you can never create a user-friendly website without talking to the users themselves and watching them interact with your product. Usability testing is a perfect method to help you look at your product from the users’ point of view.

In this guide, you are going to learn what usability testing is, why usability testing is important, how to conduct usability testing, as well as where to find testers and how to analyze the results of testing.

What is usability testing? 

Usability testing is a method of evaluating the UX of your digital product (website, app etc.) by asking users to complete specific tasks and watching them do it. Strictly speaking, usability is how users can use a service or a product effectively, efficiently and to their satisfaction.

However, UX professionals also employ usability testing to evaluate experience beyond the somewhat utilitarian definition of usability. Usability testing is used to gather data regarding user experience and is based on watching testers interact with the product.

The primary goal of usability testing is to find out how easy it is to use the product and if there are any problems that need to be fixed. 

“User Experience encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” – NNgroup

When do you need usability testing?

Usability testing has the advantage of being very flexible, which means it may be utilized at any point during the development or design process. You can conduct usability testing on your design prototypes as well as on live websites or apps. 

We recommend running several rounds of testing throughout the whole process. This type of approach will help you pinpoint the usability issues early on and leave more time for fixing them. Here are some common stages of conducting usability testing:

  1. Prototyping stage
  2. Before the product/service launch
  3. Before a redesign
  4. Regular preventive checks

Prototyping stage

Solving usability problems on an already running website or an app that users have already started downloading may get quite pricey. Therefore, it’s important to test your interactive prototypes before handing them out to the developers. Usability testing of prototypes will ensure that your designs are user-friendly enough and everything works smoothly.

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Before the product/service launch

Just when it feels like you’re all set, it’s a great time for another round of usability testing. Get rid of all the usability issues before launch, add those finishing touches and improve the product so it’s ready to go live. 

At this stage, it’s important to test with your end-users, the people that represent your target audience. Ask them to complete some common tasks on the website, like “Add a product to the shopping cart” and see if they manage to do it with no roadblocks on the way.

Before a redesign

Redesign itself is always an upgrade of something that worked or looked poorly. In order to do that, you have to find what was wrong in the first place. Here’s where usability testing comes in handy. It will uncover the problems with your current design so that you know what needs improvement.

Regular preventive checks

The UX industry, as well as your users, are constantly changing. And so do their preferences and expectations. It’s important to adapt and upgrade every once in a while. 

Schedule a regular usability testing session once every 6 month, for example. And don’t forget to test any major design changes that you implement to make sure they are not ruining your UX.

Why do you need usability testing?

Usability testing can help you find answers to important questions such as:

  • How do users interact with the website/app? What are they thinking when using it?
  • Is it possible for users to utilize the website/app for critical use cases?
  • How and where do users look for certain information?
  • Is there something that keeps them from fulfilling their goals on the website? 
  • Do they have problems with completing common actions? 
  • If they get lost and confused along the way, where does this happen? What causes the confusion?

This method helps you find out answers to these questions, as well as uncover the downsides of your design. With the insights gathered from such tests you are able to easily optimize and improve your digital product.

User testing vs usability testing 

Usability testing and user testing always tend to cause confusion in peoples’ minds. A lot of us use the two terms interchangeably when we mean one or the other, which is not exactly right. We already know what is usability testing, but how is it different from user tests?

Well, user testing is all about the users. It helps you find out about the needs and wants of your target audience, their preferences etc. The goal of user testing is to understand how your customers think and what you need to do for them to use your product. Usability testing, on the other hand, is more about the product itself, its functionality, quality and the experiences it gives. 

Usability testing and user testing, with no doubt, are very similar methods. That’s why there is nothing wrong with confusing them every once in a while.

However, they are usually conducted in different stages. User tests need to be done in the beginning, whereas usability, as we already know, should be tested throughout the whole design and development process.  

usability testing vs user testing

How to conduct usability testing

There are 5 main steps to follow in your study:

  1. Define your goals
  2. Write questions and tasks for the users
  3. Recruit the respondents
  4. Conduct your study
  5. Analyze the results

Let’s break them down in a quick overview. In the next chapters of this guide, we will then cover the various aspects of usability testing in more detail.

1. Define your goals

Think about the insights you expect to get from the test. What exactly do you want to know? Formulate your goals clearly, because this will help you to ask the right questions, later on.

usability testing goals

2. Write questions and tasks for the users

Tasks can make or break your whole study. The wording and the tone of voice of your tasks and questions directly influence respondents’ behavior. Therefore, in order to avoid bias and inaccurate results you should learn to formulate your tasks correctly.  

A good usability testing question is: 

  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Lacks bias 
  • Doesn’t give away the solution

When you prepare your tasks it’s important to ask yourself:

What is the main purpose of my product? 

What should the user be able to do?

The answers will help you align with the goals of the study and prioritize the important functionalities that you need to test. 

Let’s say you run a food delivery service. The main goal of your customer is being able to easily order a meal in your app. Here’s an example of a good task for such a usability test: “You are looking to order some pasta for dinner. Choose the one you like and make an order.”

The results will provide you with the whole buyer’s journey, the time taken to complete the task, the roadblocks that users encountered while trying to make an order, as well as the percentage of people who actually managed to submit a purchase. With this information, you’ll be ready to pinpoint the problems that stop users from completing their goal and improve your product with better UX.

Learn how to write good usability testing questions.

3. Recruit the respondents

There are tons of free and paid ways how you can recruit people for your study. All you have to do is provide the respondents with a link to the study. It can be sent in an email newsletter or shared using social media. 

Online usability testing tools also offer many ways to make the recruiting process easier. For example, UXtweak provides a handy Recruiting Widget to help you recruit people directly from your website or a cost-effective User Panel.

Read more on recruiting respondents for usability testing.

4. Conduct the study

Now that you have your tasks and your respondents ready, it’s time to actually conduct your test. Give the respondents your prepared scenarios, see how they interact with your product trying to complete the task, uncover the confusion points and ask questions. 

5. Analyze the results

You will have a lot of data after a successful study. However, in order to produce something useful out of it, you must first analyze it. Learn how to analyze the results of usability testing.

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Last update 25 . 2 . 2021