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User Testing vs. Usability Testing

In this part of the guide we are going to cover the difference between two types of testing: user testing vs. usability testing, their goals, methods, benefits and outcomes.

Author: Daria Krasovskaya

Reviewed by: Marek Strba

Last update 22.05.2024

User testing and usability testing are terms that are often used interchangeably to describe one or the other. While it’s not a crucial mistake, these are still different methods of evaluating the UX of your product and users’ opinions on it. 

User testing and usability testing differ significantly in the way they are performed, the stage of the design process when they are conducted, their goals and methods. In this guide we’ll explore these differences further and explain why you need both user and usability testing in your design projects. Let’s first start with the definitions of the two as well as their benefits.

What is user testing?

User testing is the process of testing the product with users, observing and analyzing their behavior, gathering feedback and using it to create more user-centered designs. It is often used to validate specific ideas or functionalities and measure how well your product solves the problems of its target audience.

Why do you need user testing?

User testing is an essential part of the UX design process because it helps teams in:

  • Validating assumptions: user testing helps you to evaluate the assumptions and design decisions that you make when creating a product, see if they correspond to users’ expectations and how well they serve their wants and needs. 
  • Getting to know your users: conducting user tests is essential to empathize with the target audience of your product, get to know them better and uncover their behavioral patterns, pain points, wants, needs and expectations in relation to your product.
  • Identifying hidden issues: with user tests you’re able to see how users think and act when interacting with your product, what confuses them or keeps them stuck. This often reveals UX issues that you would not have noticed otherwise.
  • Generating ideas: by talking to users and gathering feedback on your product and its features you’re able to generate new better ideas for improvement and make your product even more user-centered.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is the process of testing your product with users by giving them specific tasks based on real use case scenarios and watching them complete them. It is used to evaluate the ease of use of your product, its functionality and intuitiveness. 

The goal of usability testing is to spot usability issues and any other roadblocks that users may encounter, analyze and eliminate them for better UX.

Usability tests are usually conducted with the help of online usability testing tools.

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Why do you need usability testing?

Here are some of the main things that usability testing helps you achieve:

  • Spot usability issues: one of the most obvious ones, the main goal of usability testing is to spot hidden usability issues and eliminate them for smoother and more intuitive user experience.
  • Reduce development costs: by conducting usability tests on your product throughout the design process you’re able to spot issues early on and not waste tons of money on fixes after the launch.
  • Improve user experience: finding and eliminating usability issues ultimately leads to improved user experience and increases user satisfaction.
  • Increase conversions: usability tests show exactly where users get confused and stuck in your product. Finding these problems and fixing them helps to provide smoother flow down the conversion funnel, ensuring your users are able to interact with your product and buy from you with ease.

Check out this video showing an example of usability testing on a website:

What is the difference between user testing and usability testing?

user testing vs usability testing

While these two terms obviously overlap, the main difference between user and usability testing lies in their goals and methods which are used. While user testing is primarily aimed at understanding users’ needs, problems and evaluating how your product appeals to them, usability testing is much more focused on evaluating the functionality and ease of use of the product itself. 

To better highlight the difference we can say that user testing is about the users, while usability testing is more about the product. 

If we look at it from a broader perspective we can also say that usability testing is one of the user testing types. User testing is a rather extensive term that includes various methods and testing approaches. However, the goal of it is always the same: understanding the users better and using research data to design better products. That’s why usability tests can be viewed as one of the methods of achieving that goal.

User testing vs usability testing: when to use which

Another key difference between user testing and usability testing lies in the stages of the UX design process that they are performed at. 

User testing, being a broader term, incorporates any type of testing with users and, therefore, takes part throughout the whole UX design process, from the beginning till its very end. Usability tests, however, come in most handy only closer to the middle of the process and are performed in several rounds until the final product launch. (The exception is competitive usability testing – which is performed in the early stages of product development.)

That’s because to perform a usability test with users you need to already have some type of a product, be it a design prototype or an already developed website. We recommend to start with usability testing as early as possible as it’ll allow you to spot issues right away at the prototyping stage and not waste tons of money on fixing them with developers.

It’s important to highlight that both user and usability testing are crucial parts of the design process and it’s almost impossible to build a good product without one or the other. That’s why we recommend planning your design and development strategy with research in mind, leaving enough time and money to conduct such tests. 

And, here is the good news! 

With an all-in-one UX research tool like UXtweak you can conduct both user and usability tests throughout the whole process, from prototypes to production.

💡Pro Tip

Maximize your UX design with effective testing!

Incorporate user testing throughout the design process to gain ongoing insights, and focus on usability testing in the middle stages to refine your product before launch.

Usability testing vs user acceptance testing vs user research

There are a couple of other terms that usability testing is often confused with. Let’s take a look at two of the most common ones, user acceptance testing, and user research.

Usability testing vs. user acceptance testing

The difference here is that user acceptance testing is much more technical than usability testing.  It is usually performed by developers to find bugs in the product at the end of the development process and is also known as “Beta testing”.

On the other hand, usability testing takes a much more human approach and evaluates the UX of the product.

User research vs. usability testing

User research is usually conducted at the beginning of the product creation process. It is used to determine users’ needs, preferences, and expectations and focused on gathering qualitative data to inform future design decisions. 

It’s also used to determine if there’s a demand for your product in the market, what features it needs and how it can better solve the current problems of your future users. 

Usability testing, on the other hand, is largely conducted in the middle and closer to the end of the design process, when you already have the product or its prototype and need to evaluate its usability and intuitiveness. The exception to this is usability testing of competitive products – which is conducted in the early stages.

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