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The Marketing AIvolution Blog

Unlock business potential with research-driven insights

June 17th, 2021

Best Practices in Usability Testing

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Usability testing is a buzzword that’s circulated in the war rooms of established and fledgling businesses alike. Therefore, it’s safe to call it a vital parameter in the enterprise. So, naturally, it begs the question – Is it really that important? Well, we think so and you should as well. Here’s an example to illustrate the crucial role of usability testing. Let’s say you have created a wonderful product. You’re confident it will sell like hotcakes and that your target audience is going to embrace the product with both arms. . Therefore, you confidently invest a lot of money in designing and building this product along with investing a considerable amount in marketing and sales. However, shortly after its launch, you realize that product sales are not as stellar as you expected. You observe that your users are not having a very good time navigating through it. It is not very user-friendly despite being a great product. Naturally, that’s going to affect your ambitious business. So, where did things go wrong? Did you miss out on checking if there were any usability issues?

Here’s the takeaway from all this. If a user is not able to navigate your product and reach the desired result that they came looking for, then they are not going to accept your product, no matter how promising it is. That being the case, your product would have very few chances of being successful. It is not very difficult to make a product in this day and age. We have a lot of frameworks and tools available for it. However, to ensure popularity and eventual sales is a different ball game altogether. The product should appear great in people’s eyes rather than yours. They should be able to use the product on their own, understand it and get the result that they came looking for. During this process, they should be able to do all the navigation on their own and should not have to depend on anybody else. Now that’s what makes a product truly great!

When that’s the case, usability testing can act as a support system for your organization. If you want to make your product successful and appealing to the audience, then you must rely on usability testing. Usability testing will help your team understand how people interact with your product. Now, what does usability mean exactly? In the words of Steve Krug, the author of ‘Don’t Make Me Think’, usability or usable means “making sure that something works well: that a person of average ability and experience can use the thing whether it’s a website, a toaster, or a revolving door for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated”.

Our article will walk you through the basics of usability testing. We’ll discuss the purpose of usability tests when to do usability tests, the benefits of usability testing, and above all, the best practices you can follow to make the most of usability testing. But before we delve into this subject, let us see what usability testing actually is.


What is usability testing?

Usability testing helps to validate your product’s ease of use, features, and functionalities. When you conduct usability testing, you should keep a certain point in mind; the testing should be conducted in such a way that your product or application is compatible with all kinds of devices, especially mobile. Let us tell you why. Consider the following scenario. According to you, where do mobile users spend most of their time? The answer is quite evident isn’t it? Most of the users in today’s world interact with applications more than anything. In fact, a recent study conducted in the US finds that out of the total time users spend on mobile, 86% of it is dedicated to mobile applications. We also came across yet another study that found that out of the total time users interact with mobile apps, mobile users spend 80% of it interacting predominantly with just five apps. This is the reason for the exponential increase in the number of phone applications, especially those specific to games and social media. In fact, eminent enterprises like Forbes predict a very significant increase in the number of applications. The prediction is that by next year, a total of 270 billion apps will be downloaded by mobile users worldwide.

That being said, the applications on mobile phones have their restrictions owing to the screen size which is comparatively small, and the limited performance capabilities of the devices they run on. One can’t ignore the fact that mobile phones come with different features every year and that includes larger screen sizes and better processing. Even the design of the mobile app has developed significantly in the last few years. Various types of research conducted in the past and the present have been repeatedly referring to one thing; that usability is the most important factor for any application to gain . In fact, there is a common factor that you will be able to find in popular mobile applications. These applications are very easy to learn, intuitive, user-friendly, and consume little time while finishing tasks. These are the exact reasons why people love using certain apps; they offer features and functionalities that people want. They give the users provisions to use the app on their own without creating unwanted dependencies. A direct connection between mobile application usability and user acceptance has been identified by many other researchers. Mobile usability testing is something that should not be snubbed if you want your mobile application to be successful. Unfortunately, it is overlooked by entrepreneurs. Well, better late than never. Usability testing can be conducted at any stage of the product life cycle, although it would be easier to make enhancements during the initial stages.

But before we traverse into the next section let us define mobile usability testing in shorter and simpler words. As the name suggests, usability testing is predominantly a way to research and evaluate the user experience of your platform. Usability testing refers to testing products as per what end-users experience. The users should have an intuitive experience while using your product. The experience of your product should not lead to the user being frustrated and abandoning it midway.

There is no set process for usability testing. You should know what kind of usability tests suit your product and customize your requirements accordingly. For that, you will have to know exactly what your goal is and what you intend to convey to your users. However, the most important step is to learn the foundational aspects of usability testing and make it a part and parcel of your UX process.


What is the main purpose of usability testing?

What do you think is the role of usability testing in web design? Mostly, it is considered a method for identifying the usability issues but it also shows you what works for your site. While conducting a usability test you should be very attentive due to reason that intuitive and self-explanatory steps can go unnoticed by participants during the test. Here are the examples of usability testing:

  • Discover the product’s important pain points
  • Observe if the users truly understand the navigational process
  • Check the ease and pace at which people complete their tasks
  • Evaluate the value proposition of your site, product, or application. Check if your potential customer gets the point.
  • Check your competition. For this purpose, you can ask your target audience to play around with the competitor’s solutions and gain productive information on what can be changed or improved accordingly in your application or website.

When should you refrain from doing usability testing?

Usability testing may not help you gain insights when it comes to certain cases. These include:

  • Testing the product design associations along with visuals
  • Procuring quantitative information about the usage of your product
  • Pinpointing the preferences between different versions of visuals or copy
  • Evaluating or validating the desirability
  • Estimating the market shift and value

Here’s a tip to help you if you are looking to estimate the market demand. You can always conduct market research to identify whether you selected the right target audience. Typically, you will have done the market research part at the time your product team was ideating. However, do not depend on usability testing for this purpose, you may not find the desired results.

When should you conduct usability testing?

Usability testing can be conducted during various phases of the product designing process.

Prototype User Testing: Prototype user testing is conducted when you start uncovering your app ideas by converting the product needs of the target audience into reliable wireframes. In this process, you would have just formed a concept. Therefore, you can test low-effort paper prototypes at this point. The best part of this approach is that it helps save a lot of money as running a usability test at an early stage and consequently changing wireframes can be much cheaper than writing lines of codes to bring changes.

MVP Usability Testing: MVP OR minimum viable product denotes the initial version of your application or product that has the work of validating all your assumptions in the real market. To leverage the benefits of such a situation, you can run usability tests just before you are all set to release the app. Consequently, you can make important amendments if any error is found and other small adjustments.

Post-launch: Once your product has been launched, you can start gathering the usage data. If the data shows any potential roadblocks in the process, you can work on them to eliminate issues.

Let’s say around 60% of your users abandoned it when they reached the checkout page of your shopping site. You are able to track the numbers, but you can’t really understand the reason behind it. Here’s what you can do. You can run certain usability tests dedicated to the checkout page in order to find the underlying reasons.

Here’s a tip. Try to conduct usability testing as a recurring activity in the product design phase itself. Also, conduct it during each phase of your product development as well. Although this might sound like a tedious process, it will ultimately turn out to be very productive. It will help to enhance the usability of your product to a great degree. A good practice is to focus on the Lean UX cycle: Think, make, check.


What is the number of usability tests you should conduct?

When considering one-on-one usability tests, one might wonder what makes a representative sample size? As per a study conducted by Nielsen Norman Group, 85% of usability issues were revealed when 5 people were tested in one cycle. After each session, prioritize the problems, analyze them, iterate and then conduct a usability test again. There is yet another popular structure or framework called RITE ((Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) that facilitates quicker processes and solutions. It is all about running a single usability test in one go and then the problems will be discovered, which will be corrected immediately after the test. When you apply such a framework, it enables you to test usability faster and more frequently. It is good to first adjust the scale, rigidity, and the number of times a project usability study is conducted.


What are the different types of usability testing?

Wondering what the various ways are in which you can conduct usability testing? How do you choose the right type of usability testing for your product? Let us discuss further.

It is always a better idea to consider multiple factors, and be mindful of the different resources before you decide on a certain approach or method. You can’t definitively say that one approach is better than the other. It all depends on your goals, the type of product, and the target audience. Mostly, a usability test works well when you conduct it where your target audience is bound to be. While some products may demand a large-scale study, others may even require building dedicated usability labs for them with particular types of equipment. If such labs affect your budget constraints, consult an expert and design a low-budget lab. All this could seem to be very tiring at first. The preparation, analysis, recruitment, report, etc. might be a bit too much to take. However, in the long run, you will realize that you have saved a lot of time, money, and effort. All your efforts invested in usability testing will reap the productive insights you desired for.

Now, let us see what are the different types of usability tests.


  1. Guerilla Testing

It is the easiest form of usability testing. For a process like a guerilla testing you just go to a public place like a park, restaurant, or cafe to introduce people to the prototype and then ask them questions about the same. The participants of the usability test will be chosen in random order and will be asked to perform a quick task in return for an offer or incentive. The guerilla method is inexpensive and simpler and helps you procure genuine user feedback. The best time to use guerilla testing is during the initial stages of product development. This type of usability testing can help in obtaining personal and emotional opinions about concepts. That being said, you must always make it a point to see that the test participants in Guerilla testing represent your product’s target audience. At times, you may not be able to find an audience that represents your target audience exactly, which is why this method may not always be the best option.


  1. Lab Usability Testing

We’d mentioned briefly about lab usability testing earlier. Allow us to give you a better idea of the usability testing method in this section. The first thing you need to know is that lab usability testing need not require a dedicated lab. These types of tests are usually done in a special environment with a moderator or supervisor to supervise them. A moderator or supervisor is actually a professional who is responsible for procuring productive feedback from test participants. So, when a lab usability test is performed, the moderator will have to encourage the test participants to perform tasks, reply to their questions, and get their feedback in real-time.

You can make the most of lab usability tests when you are in search of credible information on how real users use your product and what bottlenecks they might come across. You will be able to find the reason behind the particular user behavior. Since this test is supervised it will also help you collect reliable qualitative feedback. However, the disadvantages of these tests are that they can be quite expensive to run because you will need a proper environment and hire a moderator in addition to identifying the right participants.


  1. Unmoderated remote usability testing

Unmoderated remote usability testing does not occur in a specific environment. Moreover, the process will not be moderated by a supervisor or moderator. Well, the name of this usability test says it all, doesn’t it? The best part is that the test participants can take part in unmoderated remote usability tests from the environment they are in and then send the results to you directly.. Since it is unmoderated, an honest result can be expected. However, on the downside, this type of testing does not offer detailed information even though it is comparatively cheaper.


  1. Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry can be considered as an interview or observation method. This usability test revolves around monitoring and observations. Such types of testing help the product team obtain information about the user experience from the actual users. Test participants will be asked some questions about the experience they had with the product. Thereafter, they will be observed closely and questioned in detail while they engage in their own environment.


  1. Phone Interview

A phone interview is more of a remote usability test where you will be able to observe the test participants being verbally guided through the phone, to encourage them to complete their tasks on their personal devices. The feedback is then collected automatically.


  1. Card sorting

Card sorting is one of the best usability tests to prioritize content, features, and other aspects of the user interface. Card sorting is very easy to conduct. All you have to do is include concepts or ideas on cards and let the test participants categorize the cards into groups and categories. As soon as the test participants complete the sorting process, the supervisor can ask them about the logic they had used.


  1. Session Recording

Session recording is yet another usability testing method in our list. Session recording will help record the actions of the real but anonymous users. All their interactions will be recorded as and when they engage with your site or application. The recorded data will then help you understand what content/features had caught the attention of the test participants (heatmap analysis) and also what issues they faced while navigating the product.


What are the best usability testing practices?

  1. Plan your Study

Always create a simple and informative usability testing plan. This plan should be shared with your team and then the feedback should be collected for the same. You should also be able to convince your team of the ideated plan. You should convey the value of it, explain the whats whys, and hows of the usability testing approach.

‘Why’: Tell your team why usability testing is so important if they are new to this concept. Make sure that everybody is comfortable with the idea.

‘What’: Analyze the current needs of your project. This can help you evaluate what are the areas you should be testing and prioritize them accordingly. Always remember to keep the plan at a high level during the planning process.

‘How’: You need to sort out certain doubts to give a definition to your plan and expect the possible questions that your team can ask. Here are some examples. ‘Prototypes or live codes. Which will be used to test?’ ‘Lab will be conducted in a lab or remotely done?’, ‘how often the test will be conducted and so on.


Now, to further plan your usability study, you must first consider :

Type of product used to test: Are you planning to launch a mobile app, a website, or a kiosk interface prototype? This question should be considered first.

Platform: For instance, when you are testing a mobile app, check if the OS will be a deciding factor and if it might influence the study. If that’s the case, let the test participants choose the OS.

Research Objectives: Check if the users understand passwordless registration and login and whether the navigation is easy for them. You must turn your objectives into solid usability testing questions. Focus on a certain task, pages, areas, or ideas to test.

Target audience: Here are some questions to be considered with respect to your target audience.

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How many participants are required?
  • How to reach them?
  • What should be offered as an incentive?
  • How to confirm if your test participants represent your target audience?

For instance, if you are about to rely on HR representatives to test a remote hiring platform, take a note of their experience, current position, qualification and if needed, select them using a screening process.

In-person or Remote: You can choose if the usability testing should be done remotely or in person by basing your decision on the requirements, objectives, target audience, and of course, the type of product you are using.


  1. Selecting your User Test Participants

Usability testing recruitment can be quite a task. Finding the right audience is definitely a challenge. So how do you find the right target audience?

When you decide on your target audience, always keep in mind a clear persona or a specific group of people. Finding someone who has not yet been part of any of your testing experiences would be a wise decision. In order to make sure your potential test participant represents your target audience, create a screener. You can do this through an online form or ask the screening questions via phone. The next process would be to keep track of applicants, handle the inbox, evaluate the results and then schedule test sessions.


  1. Pilot test

Yes, you will have to test your usability test. Do a pilot. The pilot participant need not be from the target audience. You can also run a session with one of your colleagues or friends. Test your plan. As a result, you will be able to find some flaws or defects in your prototype.


  1. Ask warm-up questions during usability tests

You need to make sure that the scene is set in such a way that the participants can imagine it and perform the tasks accordingly. Also, try to be non-judgemental during these tasks. For this, you can ask them some warm-up questions regarding:

  • Needs: What are the users looking for and where does the particular problem arise?
  • Experience: How do the participants use similar products?
  • Intentions: Why do they use such products?
  • Knowledge: What do they know about the intended topic


  1. Ask questions post-test

Long sessions of questioning can be tiring and frustrating for the participants. To help the participants relax, you can ask them how their experience was and so on. In fact, you can ask a set of post-test questions to help them open up and give feedback. Here are some post-test question examples:

  • Do you have any suggestions
  • On a scale of 1-10, how easy was the experience?
  • What are the things that caused a few confusions?
  • Did the whole experience lack anything?

Also, never forget to thank the participants later and assure them that they gave some valuable feedback.


  1. Analyze and Report

After conducting the test, you must analyze it well, categorize the feedback, prioritize it and then submit an insightful report to your team. After each round of tests, you can share the notes you made, and later after the entire set of rounds end, provide a detailed report.


7. Prioritize usability issues

You should not end up with a cluster of cluttered findings, so make sure you prioritize the usability issues. It is good to meet up with your stakeholders and team members after a round of tests so that you can understand the trend, the possible results, and the emerging questions.


  1. Don’t Panic if glitches happen

Always remember, you can make mistakes during these usability tests. Glitches happen. But do not panic. This happens because you are working with different prototypes, recording devices, and tools. Inform your participants of the difficulty and promise them that it will be fixed. However, try to stick to the pre-agreed time and find alternative ways to fix the issues. For instance, if the prototype does not work properly, come up with a different task and familiarize users with it. You can conduct an interview by that time and procure important details.

Incorporate all that you have learned and unlearned during the usability tests into your product. Include the needed amendments to your product design. Always remember, usability testing is an iterative process and you need actual users that represent your target audience to bring relevant changes to your design. But whatever you do, never neglect to conduct a usability test, preferably before you launch your product. Every usability test helps you derive new insights that will make your product more appealing to your potential customers. Try to conduct usability tests on a regular basis and also \include stakeholders in the process. This will help your team make a collective decision based on the result of the tests. Proper usability testing can define the popularity of your product and, ultimately, the success of your brand


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