What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a test to determine how user-friendly and accessible a product is by letting the users interact with it. The users are typically given a task to accomplish, and you’ll get to observe how they accomplish it, noting their behaviour and reaction, and then collect their feedback after the task is done.

You can do a simple usability testing by recording how your users use your product or you can go all out and use eye-tracking technology. Furthermore, you can conduct usability tests on a competitor’s product to study how it compares to your product. Usability testing is an essential step to ensure that designers and developers build an enjoyable user experience.

Why do you need to do usability testing?

Usability testing recognises usability errors within the software app early in the development stage, giving you the following benefits:

  • You can spot design mistakes before going into production, saving you time and money.
  • You learn more about how users behave and gain their opinions to further understand their needs and motivation.
  • You can find opportunities and then design improvements into the product.
  • You can validate an idea or hypothesis by testing it directly with the users.
  • Overall, you can design better products with optimal user experience.

When do you need to run usability testing?

Usability testing can be done at any time during the product development cycle. The earlier and the more regular you run user testing, the better the outcome. Typically, usability testing is done when:

  • Developing a new product idea
  • Starting a new project, whether it is improving a product or introducing a new feature
  • In the UX redesign phase and development phase.
  • Running design sprints.

Usability testing is heavily used in design sprints, done on the last day, which validates whether your idea works or not.

What are the different usability testing methods?

There are a few ways to run a usability test. The most common is face-to-face sessions. In-person testing is great for capturing feedback because you get to observe non-verbal cues from your users. You must record the sessions, so you have a reference to study further and share with other teams.

You can also run remote tests. At times, it is more suitable, especially when testing a huge cohort of users in different locations. Remote user testing is also great for when the tests are simpler such as when you’re refining a feature.

The last method is called guerrilla user testing, where you will be randomly asking passers-by, colleagues and friends that match your targeted users, to use your product. It is an informal session, and usually in a public place.

The good thing about guerrilla testing is you’ll get to reach people you’ve never considered as your target market and gain more insight about your product. It is highly recommended when you’re building a new product.

How to run a usability testing?

The process to prepare for a usability test involves the following steps:

  1. Understand your product and research objectives
  2. Research your target audience
  3. Prepare the test method, environment, and questions
  4. Recruit user test participants
  5. Conduct a pilot test
  6.  Analyse the observations and report
  7. Prioritise usability issues to resolve
  8. Repeat when necessary

What type of questions should you ask the users?

There are roughly 3 different stages to the process: pre-test, test, and post-test. And they all need different kinds of questions to serve different purposes.

Firstly, you need to understand the product thoroughly, the objectives and the target audience. This covers things like the problem you’re trying to solve, the current solutions in the market, and the type of users who will use your product.

1. Pre-test Questions

These are recruitment questions to select the right users for your product. It can be your current user, or someone who has never used your product but needs your product or use a similar competing product. You’ll ask questions such as their demographics, their experience and knowledge about your product. You’re trying to gauge whether they know enough about your product to give the kind of valuable insights required. Questions include:

  • Age, gender, income, and education level
  • Do you use our app or a similar app?
  • Why do you use our app or a similar app?
  • How much time do you spend on the app?
  • Which features do you use most?
  • How satisfied are you with the app?

2. In-test Questions

This stage of usability testing is the heart of this research and gives the information you’ll use to expose bottlenecks, pain points, as well as opportunities. During testing, you’ll observe the users as they try to complete the test tasks.

It’s good to get users to voice their thoughts aloud as they are using the product, so you get a clearer insight to their thought processes. Having casual conversations help the usability test to flow naturally and put participants at ease. Alternatively, it could also be a period of total silent where you’re just keenly observing every facial expression and reaction.

The questions you’re asking are meant to guide the users and assist them if they are having difficulties. But it shouldn’t distract them from doing the test. If you can see that they are about to make a mistake, let them. This is the whole purpose of usability testing, to find out how easy it is to use your product.

3. Post-test Questions

This is the final stage and is a great opportunity for follow-up questions to their experience. Examples of post-test questions include:

  • How do you feel using the app?
  • If you could change one thing about the app, what would it be? Why?
  • I noticed you did (insert action or reaction). Why?
  • What did you think about the layout/content/task flow?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how easy was it to find the information you need?
  • How was the overall shopping experience?
Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.