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The Marketing AIvolution Blog

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June 16th, 2021

Mobile Usability Testing Handbook

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The mobile market is simply enormous and the growth spurt is expected to continue in the years to come. The world has at least 4.5 billion mobile users and it wouldn’t be far from the truth to state that we live in a mobile-first world. Moreover, the surge is exponential with no plateau in sight. People are depending on their smartphones for every single task, be it organizing their schedule or hailing a cab. Everything in the modern world happens at a tap and touch with mobile phones evolving to be an extension of ourselves. Even the usage of apps has increased due to their compatibility on mobile devices. Today, thousands of apps are developed on a daily basis, although only a few turn out to be successful. The problem behind this depends primarily on two factors – a poorly configured product or unsatisfactory usability levels that tempts the users to abandon the app. In this handbook, we focus on mobile usability tests and how entrepreneurs apply them to prevent failure of the application. First things first, let’s start from the basics.


What is the Mobile Usability Test?


This is a question that needs some explaining, but before that, let’s ask a more specific one: Where do mobile users spend most of their time? The answer is quite obvious – on one of the many mobile apps. A recent study conducted in the US has found that 86% of the time users spend on mobile is dedicated to mobile applications. And yet another study found out that mobile users spend 80% of their app interaction time confined to just 5 apps. Therefore, in the last few years, there has been an exponential increase in the number of phone applications, especially those specific to games and social media. In fact, prestigious organizations like Forbes predict a very significant increase in the number of applications in the years to come. It is estimated that by next year a total of 270 billion apps will be downloaded worldwide!

Having said that, the applications on mobile phones have their constraints owing to the relatively small screen size and limited performance capabilities of the devices they run on. One can’t deny the fact mobile phones come with new-new capabilities every year and that involves larger screen sizes and better processing features. It is also true that even the design of the mobile app has developed significantly in the last few years. Multiple types of research conducted in the past have tried to explore the dynamics and performance of mobile applications and have all come to a similar conclusion. The research has confirmed that the most prominent factor influencing app success is its usability. In fact, a common factor that you can find in popular mobile applications is that all their users find these applications easy to learn, intuitive, user-friendly, and less time-consuming while completing tasks. Researchers have even found a direct connection between mobile application usability and user acceptance. Mobile usability testing is imperative for the success of any mobile application, yet it is often overlooked by entrepreneurs. It’s time to bring a change there.

So before we delve deeper into the section, let’s define mobile usability testing in a few simple words.

Mobile usability testing, as the name suggests, is all about usability tests performed on applications running on a mobile platform. Usability testing refers to testing products to assess the end-user experience.

Who takes part in Mobile usability testing?

Let’s take a look at the people involved in the execution of a mobile usability test.

  • Test Users – They are usually someone representing the app’s target audience. Test users are the most vital members of any usability testing session because, as we mentioned earlier, they are the people who represent the users who will actually use your app once it is out in the market.


  • Facilitator – The facilitator refers to a UX expert who guides and observes the other participants while they are taking part in predefined tasks as defined in a test app. This role should be handled by one person most of the time so that the possibility of a skewed result can be eliminated completely.


  • Other Stakeholders – The other stakeholders involve QA engineers, developers, or anyone in the core team with a strong knowledge about certain features of the app. Their questions, insights, and analysis should be able to generate productive results during the test session.


When should Mobile Usability Testing take place?

Based on the current status of the mobile app development, you can select from the following modes of usability testing:

  • Prototype User Testing: This is the stage where you start unraveling your app ideas by transforming product needs and all the knowledge you know about the target audience into dependable frameworks. The best part of this approach is that it saves you a lot of money because running a usability test at this stage and amending wireframes, as a result, is way more economical than coding.


  • MVP Usability Testing: MVP OR minimum viable product refers to the initial version of your product that has the responsibility to verify all your assumptions in the real market. To make the most out of such a situation, you can run usability tests just before you are scheduled to release the app. Consequently, you can make crucial changes if any error is found and other minor adjustments that can improve the app’s capabilities.


  • Post-launch: Once your app is launched, you can start gathering the usage data. If this data projects any potential bottlenecks in workflows, you need to analyze and work on them to allow for prompt removal.


What do you measure during Usability testing?

According to the pre-set goals of the app examination, you could be after analytical information or insightful stories. Additionally, the nature of your goals will determine whether you do quantitative or qualitative tests.

Quantitative UX tests are those usability concerning analytical data and app metrics. For example, here are some questions you can consider:

  • How long does it take a new user to onboard a neo banking technology?
  • How frequently do the test users fail to complete a task?
  • Rate the difficulty of the task on a scale from 0 to 10?

You run these UX tests to calculate the estimated cost savings from updating the UX design of the application, comparison with other versions of the design, or setting a benchmark for future comparisons.

Qualitative user testing can be more generic and tries to focus on finding the inefficiencies in the mobile UX. The questions could range as follows:

  • Do participants find it difficult to locate a restaurant in this food delivery app?
  • Will they reuse this new version, as you had intended?

Qualitative tests can help you find and eliminate roadblocks in mobile user flows.

What are the benefits of conducting mobile usability testing?

As we mentioned earlier, many people overlook the importance of mobile usability testing. Before embarking on that path, we would advise you to take a look at the benefits of mobile usability testing:

  • Mobile usability testing is the most cost-effective option to verify your ideas no matter what stage you are at. Be it prototyping, pre-release or post-release, mobile usability testing has got you covered. If you start your mobile application usability testing before coding, then you are saving oodles of time and money. However, if you are involved in mobile usability testing while the app is already live, you can still save some money as you will not be experimenting with the existing user base
  • Another great benefit of usability testing is that you speed up the time to market your app.
  • Usability testing helps you make sure that your app is adding value to your business and meeting the expectations of your users and clients
  • Checking on the usability of your mobile app will help you take your business to the next level. You can improve customer experience, reduce unnecessary time spent on customer support and definitely increase your sales and revenue
  • You can effectively identify and pinpoint the necessary changes that should be brought to your site.
  • You can identify how long it will take to complete particular tasks. The reason being that usability tests are extremely efficient in detecting bugs and other defects which may have gone unnoticed by the developer
  • You can work with the users and involve them in the ideation process. By involving the users in your niche right from the start, you will be able to procure very useful feedback and incorporate them into your product rather than doing the same in the later stages of development
  • You get a chance to fix the problems even before releasing the app which can turn out to be a major advantage in the long run. Also, mobile usability testing can be done at any stage in the application development process
  • You get a chance to know how satisfied your participants are with your product by conducting mobile application usability testing
  • You can find modifications needed to enhance user experience and satisfaction
  • Ultimately, you get a chance to optimize your application and meet your main goal by performing mobile application usability testing and procuring productive feedback


What should a basic framework of mobile application usability testing contain?

Before we go into the methods and best practices, let us see how you can create a basic wireframe of a mobile application usability test plan. There is no specific set structure but these points can act as the foundation for your basic framework:

  • The purpose, aim, and objective of the test
  • Questions for research
  • Design the tasks
  • Traits of the participants
  • Method (Test design)
  • Choose Between Lab Settings or Remote Testing
  • List of tasks
  • Test environment, equipment, and logistics
  • The role of the test facilitator role
  • Data required to be collected
  • Evaluation procedures
  • Report content and presentation

Based on these points of the ideal usability test plan, it can be said that in order to conduct a mobile application usability test, you need:

  • Objectives of the test
  • List of tasks to be performed
  • Design the Tasks
  • Test Documents
  • Understand Types of usability testing
  • Choose between lab settings and remote settings

Let us elaborate on each point and see what each of them means.

  1. Objectives of the Mobile Application Usability Testing


Evidently, the very first step of any usability step is to fix your goals right away, albeit very cautiously. Here are some relevant questions you can ask yourself.

  • What questions do you aim to answer with the usability test or
  • What feature do you want to test

Now how do you set these goals? Firstly, you should identify and come up with the specific objectives for your usability test based on questions similar to the one proposed above. While designing your goals, you can keep the five usability attributes in mind: Efficiency, effectiveness, engagement, error tolerance, and the simplicity of the learning curve. Once you have these big objectives set, you must come down to the specifics. One common objective is finding out what aspects of your mobile app the user enjoys. For instance, it could be the ease of use or the colors used in the design. Another objective you can focus on is finding if a new feature helps or delays the user from completing a specific task. You could do it the way you like or the way you think will bring productive results. Ensure you have a set of reliable objectives and see to it that it is flexible as well. When you select your core objectives, verify that they can be used or asked every time you run a usability test. Flexible objectives refer to the ones that depend on new updates or changes that weren’t part of the app before.

Along with this, you can interview the app’s stakeholders (which includes the development team)and explore more important areas:

  • Roadmap of the app
  • Target audience and the market for which the app is targeted
  • Competition
  • Research that has been done
  • The impact the research can bring
  • Duration and scope

The answers will predominantly give you an idea about two aspects:

  • What the stakeholders know
  • What they intend to know

Goal identification becomes much easier when you find answers to the above questions.

  1. List of tasks to be performed

Once you have taken care of the objectives, you can move forward to the next step – setting tasks. Tasks are usually just a sentence long and will consist of interaction that ought to be performed by the test users. For instance:

  • Register into the product account
  • Sign in to your account
  • Add a display picture
  • Accept a request to connect

You need not necessarily ask the test user to perform a task and make them feel like they are being tested. It might not bring about the best results. Here’s what you can do instead. Convert the tasks to task scenarios. This way you can provide a context as to why the task is being performed by the participant and hence facilitate natural interactions that a real user would experience when they interact with your mobile application. Task scenarios can be set as follows:

  • Actionable and realistic, the participant will not be instructed on how to use the application
  • Bring a sequence that helps in ensuring a hassle-free flow of the test session.
  • Should be linked to one or more objectives

Be it any form of testing, you must make it a point to conduct a dry run of the mobile application usability test so that you can ensure that the task performance brings productive outcomes and achieve the set objectives.

  1. Design the Tasks

Design the list of tasks that your users are expected to perform. You must follow a set of rules, or rather guidelines when you design usability tasks.

First and foremost, you must make it a point to remove placeholder text like ‘lorem ipsum’ with a simple draft of what you intend to put there. You should not miss out on it even if your mobile app is still in the development phase. By doing so, you will be able to understand how users would navigate the product and decide which part of it is important. If you keep a placeholder instead, it will not only leave your users clueless and mislead them, but might also become annoying as they can get a bit lost on how to proceed from that point. Also, you must refrain from providing clues in your instructions. Offering clues and hints will encourage the participants to perform the tasks mechanically and you might end up with a biased outcome. When they are left to their own devices, you will be able to clearly note how they navigate the app and observe what are the aspects blocking them from doing so.

  1. Usability Test Documents

A mobile application usability test requires you to procure a specific number of documents. Now, the number of documents and the content might differ as per your application, but ideally, you will require the following:

Consent form: Different for minors and adults

Post-test questionnaire: The content of this particular questionnaire is usually one of two types. It could be simple post-test questions or some standard questionnaires such as the post-study usability questionnaire.

  1. Understanding the types of usability testing

It is known that the main aim of usability testing is to find how productive the design process is from the perspective of the user and, therefore, UX researchers have developed many techniques for testing and enhancing the product hypothesis and design decisions. There are multiple methods that have come up of late, from the lab-based usability test to the most recently developed. Now, your role is to understand each method of usability testing before you implement it as part of your mobile application usability testing. You need to know which type of testing method suits your target audience, research objectives, and available resources. Want to know what the different types of usability testing are? Scroll down.

  1. Choose between lab settings and remote settings

We cannot pinpoint a particular option for you when it comes to choosing between lab settings and remote settings. What we can do is provide you with the pros and cons of each setting so that you can make an informed decision.

The good news is that you won’t actually need to be in a lab to run a usability test in a lab setting. It simply implies that you are running the test by yourself in a controlled scenario. In lab settings, you have the advantage of creating the opportunity to gain extra observations. Even the smallest detail can be noticed easily with the lab mode such as their hesitations or scrunched eyebrows. These small observations can speak volumes about the user experience. You also have complete control over their experience and the environment in which the test will be performed. Coming to the downside, the results could be muddled up due to the framing effect.

The framing effect actually refers to a situation where people decide on the options to choose based on the positive or negative semantics associated with it. Let’s make it more clear. If you accidentally pose a question in a leading manner or even provide more information than actually needed, you could end up getting results that are inclined to the knowledge and experience you have with the app rather than that of the users’.

The benefit of remote testing is that you don’t have to schedule a particular time for the participants to perform the test. The users can complete the task whenever they want to ( in the given time frame) and then send the results to you. This procedure can save large amounts of time for your team. Moreover, remote testing can help overcome the framing effect to an extent.

Types of Mobile Usability Testing

  1. Guerilla Testing

It is the simplest form of usability testing. In such a process, you simply go to a public place like a restaurant or cafe to ask people about the prototype. 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 incentive. This method is cheap and more conducive for procuring genuine user feedback. The best time to use guerilla testing is during the primary stages of product development. This method can help in procuring personal and emotional opinions about concepts. Having said all that, you must remember that the test participants in Guerilla testing need not necessarily represent your product’s target audience, which is why this method is not always the best method for particular instances.

  1. Lab Usability Testing

We had mentioned briefly lab usability testing earlier. We’ll give you a better idea of the usability testing method in this section. Lab usability testing is not necessarily done in a lab. These kinds of tests are usually done in a special environment with a moderator to supervise the participants. A moderator is a professional who is responsible for obtaining feedback from live users. So, during a lab usability test, the moderator’s job is to encourage the test participants to perform tasks, reply to their questions, and even collect their feedback in real-time.

This kind of test works best when you are in search of credible information on how real users work with your product and what roadblocks they come across. You will also be able to find the reason behind the particular user behavior in this setting. Since this test is moderated, it will also help you collect dependable qualitative feedback. But on the downside, these tests can be quite expensive to run because you will need a secure environment and hire a moderator in addition to finding the right participants.

  1. Unmoderated remote usability testing

Unmoderated remote usability testing, as we mentioned earlier, does not happen in a set environment. Moreover, the process will not be supervised by a moderator, just as the name suggests. Test participants can take part in the usability test from the environment they are in and then send the results to you. Since it is unmoderated, you can expect a more honest result. The benefit of this type of testing is that it is cheaper but does not offer detailed information.

  1. Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry acts more like an interview or observation method rather than a usability test. It helps the product team receive information about the user experience from real users. Test participants will be asked some questions about the experience they had with the product. Then they will be closely observed and questioned while they interact in their own environment.

  1. Phone Interview

A phone interview can be considered as a remote usability test where you will see the participants being verbally guided through the phone, so they can complete their tasks on their personal device. The feedback will then be collected automatically.

  1. Card sorting

Card sorting can be used to prioritize content, features, and other aspects of the user interface. The method is very simple. Just add concepts or ideas on cards and let the participants add the cards into groups and categories. As soon as the test participants are done with sorting, the moderator can ask them to reveal the logic they used.

  1. Session Recording

Session recording is a usability testing method in which the actions of the real but anonymous users will be recorded as and when they interact with your product. This recorded data will help understand which content/features have caught the attention of the users (heatmap analysis) and also what problems they face while navigating the product.

What are the best practices for conducting mobile application usability tests?

Here are some of the best practices to check while conducting a mobile application usability test:

  1. Form labeling

Make sure that your form label is placed above the fields or is created as floating labels to help participants realize why they are completing a particular form. The forms should be able to communicate what is actually necessary for a field to eliminate chances of user error. They should also be validated once each field is completed and not done at the very end.

  1. Minimal Scrolling

It is always good to keep scrolling to a minimum. Yes, scrolling does provide a lot of opportunities for the designers to understand user behavior. Yet, it comes with a set of drawbacks. A lot of scrolling can consume significant amounts of time and the participants might lose interest leading to skewed answers. However, if you feel you need to keep infinite scrolling, keep the following points in mind:

  1. Encourage users to scroll
  2. Make navigation adjustments for scrolling
  3. Make scrolling more attractive via animations

3. Auto-filled customer data

For your app to be relevant in the present time, auto-filling customer data must be an integral part of your app. Apps that do not have the capability of auto-filling customer or user data like search queries will be considered poor when it comes to usability.

  1. Content Availability

Make sure that content is available in your product even if there is no or low connectivity. Even though you may not be able to manage all content on the device, do ensure that critical content is available even when the internet connection is not stable.

  1. Say more with less content

Aspects like pop-up content can help a lot in conveying the message of the app. It not only helps users move forward in their in-app journey but also offers additional information or fetches instant feedback. It should be displayed at the right time to get the best results. Also, it shouldn’t look or sound like a tiring task for the users.

  1. Color and font

Choosing the right color for your app design is crucial as it decides the success of the UX. You need to choose colors according to the solutions you provide through the app. Also use contrasting colors, especially when it comes to text and background color so that visibility is increased. As for fonts, you need to pick a font that complements your mobile app. For example, you can use sans-serif to portray a modern look, while relying on serif font to convey informative pieces of content.

  1. Avoid Ads

Try to avoid ads during usability testing as it can hinder the user experience and even block the view to critical content. Also, if you feel including ads is the right choice, at least make sure that they don’t pop more than once as it can have a bad impact on user experience.

Closing Notes…

The importance of such a process cannot be stressed enough and we hope this handbook convinced you to perform a usability test for your product. So, do not overlook mobile application usability testing when it is your turn. Always remember, testing now will allow you to rest later!

So that concludes your detailed handbook to mobile application usability testing, the hows, whats, and whys of the concept. Hope you enjoyed reading it, as much as enjoyed writing this article!

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