Usability Testing

11.05.2018 |

Episode #8 of the course User experience design for non-designers by Lyndon Cerejo


Welcome to Day 8 of our course!

Yesterday, we saw how prototyping can bring UX Design to life and create a common, shared understanding. Prototypes can also be tested with representative users through usability testing, as we discuss today.


What Is Usability Testing?

During a usability test, participants try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen, and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems and issues with the design, find out the participant’s satisfaction level, and use that feedback to refine the design.

Usability testing is not the same as User Acceptance Testing (UAT), which focuses on making sure the solution works as defined in the requirements. Usability testing ,on the other hand, is conducted to ensure that the solution is easy and intuitive for actual end users. It should be done throughout UX Design, and we can use prototypes for these tests.

There are many usability testing options, including moderated or unmoderated, remote or in-person, and combinations thereof. While unmoderated remote testing allows us to cast a wider net with many more participants, it does not offer opportunities for contextual probing. Moderated in-person testing provides rich user insights that are often missed using other methods. It also allows us to focus on certain features and functionality with a few participants, as well as probe any additional concepts.


Components of a Usability Test

A successful usability test needs the following:

Usability test plan. A usability test plan documents the what, why, when, where, who, and how of the usability test. It is a good idea to have key stakeholders and project team members sign off on the details in the plan to ensure that the usability test will test the right features and functionality, with the correct representative audience on appropriate devices, and that the right metrics are being collected and reported.

Participants. One of the most important steps for a successful usability test is finding the right participants, since one size does not fit all. Remember those personas that we create as a common understanding of our user groups? They serve as a way to identify the profiles of participants for usability testing. As a rule of thumb, testing with five users uncovers as many issues as testing with more. However, if you have multiple user groups with different tasks, you can test with three to four per user group and still get equally good results.

Tasks, scripts, and prototype. A script helps a usability test facilitator walk through the test consistently. The tasks are the heart of the usability test, and the prototype should support those tasks. A good rule of thumb is about four main tasks in an hour-long usability test—this allows for the startup and wrap-up questions, as well as enough time for follow-up questions related to the tasks and observations.

Room and equipment. While formal usability labs with two-way mirrors are an option, you can successfully run usability tests in a small conference room with the facilitator sitting near the participant and the observer behind them. For the equipment, make sure you have charged or powered devices, connectivity, and recording equipment, if needed. A trial run helps work out the kinks before testing with real participants.

Facilitator and observer. The facilitator guides participants through the test and the tasks, without leading them on. Facilitating usability tests takes training and experience, as well as empathy, patience, and listening skills.

While the facilitator could double as the observer and notetaker, having another person play those roles allows the facilitator to focus on facilitating. There’s a great deal of value in having more observers, especially if they are stakeholders and team members. Having more observers helps them empathize with the user’s experience and realize that users are not like them. However, have all other observers watch from another room or watch the recordings later, to avoid making the user uncomfortable or feel like they are being scrutinized.

Usability testing uncovers a treasure trove of usability issues that can be fixed inexpensively, since this is still during design, before a single line of code has been written. Fixing these issues early and often leads to a better, more user-friendly, and User-Centered Design. Go ahead and try it—even one test is better than none!

Our next email will look at the different roles in design and user experience.

Until then, here’s to sharpening your usability observation eye!



Recommended resource

Free downloadable testing scripts, templates, checklists, and video from Don’t Make Me Think and Rocket Surgery Made Easy.


Recommended reading

How Many Test Users in a Usability Study?


Recommended book

Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems by Steve Krug


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