Usability testing in six simple steps

Usability testing is a key component in designing, completing, and launching a great digital product. It is about detecting usability issues at any stage of the product development cycle with the aim of improving the overall user experience. How do you go about this? You need to monitor how representative users interact with the product in a realistic setting. By doing this, you can see exactly what works and, most importantly, what does not.

There are a lot of variables that can influence the quality and validity of the usability testing process. Factors such as budget, tight deadlines, participants, unclear criteria, and different testing environments generally devalue the results.

To ensure that you set up a valid user test it is important to understand the usability testing process. We have set out the 6 easy-to-follow steps for successful usability testing.

Step 1: Define the testing objectives.

First and foremost, start off by clearly outlining your usability testing goals. What you want to test is completely up to you. What do you want to test and what are the answers that you expect to obtain?

Do not expect to just “wing it” this process because you will set yourself up to fail. Usability testing involves a lot of research, planning and preparation so it is important that you are ready with a concrete testing plan.

Step 2: Choose the testing method you will use.

Now it is time to choose the most appropriate usability testing method. You will also want to consider things like budget, resources, and testing facilities.

Keep in mind where your product is currently at in the development cycle. Some testing methods are more appropriate to use early on during the development phases, whilst others are better suited for a completed product.

There are several different testing methods to consider, but we will touch on the three most common ones:

  • Remote usability testing. This is an affordable technique and can be conducted in a natural setting such as home or a workplace and can be moderated or unmoderated.

  • A/B testing. During this process users are given two options of a digital product to determine which version performs better. This method needs more participants than others for accurate results.

  • Focus groups. This involves a controlled discussion between small groups of users and usually takes place in a room equipped with a two-way mirror.

Step 3: Find appropriate test participants.

When you are recruiting users to participate in your usability testing, make sure that you test people who match your target user profile – you need a clear selection criterion to achieve this (age, gender, location, education, profession, technical proficiency etc).

Generally, 3–5 users are sufficient to identify key issues. Select people who are not familiar with your product for more reliable results. Users who are already familiarized with your product may have preconceived ideas about completing tasks (this will skew results).

In addition to test participants, you also need an experienced facilitator to guide the test and make sure that everything runs smoothly, as well as a few observers to take notes during the test.

Step 4: Create task scenarios for test participants.

The way you ask test participants to complete tasks is critical to usability testing success. You do not want to reveal the exact order of actions users need to take to get from point A to point B. You do not want to direct users towards the finish line, but rather give them enough information to complete the tasks intuitively and on their own. Think of it like a mathematical equation. You give participants a problem and they must find the correct procedure to solve it.

Step 5: Replicate the testing environment.

Scripting and replicating everything that is done during the testing process is key. This may sound unusual, but it is important to be consistent with when and how you say and do something. Recreating the testing environment is the only way you can be certain that your results are accurate.

It has been found that it is the test facilitator that prompts inconsistencies to happen. By having a script, you eliminate the chances of inconsistencies occurring during testing. For example, they might disclose certain details about the testing process to some and not to others. This and other participant engagement discrepancies adds up to an inconsistent testing environment.

Step 6: Analyse the findings.

It’s finally time to gather the results from the testing and consider them. How have the participants responded to the test? What key issues did they uncover? Have any of your hypotheses been proven true?

Once you have finished collating and summarizing the findings, it is key to work together with your design and development team to prioritize issues identified, explore possible solutions, and determine the best course of action to improve the user experience.

Test, Analyse, Repeat!

Effectively conducting usability testing does not have to be an overwhelming and complex task. It is quite easy once you define your objectives, choose your testing method, create your task scenarios, formulate your questions, and document the results. By following these 6 simple steps you can get the answers you need to improve the user experience of your digital product, increase retention rates and (hopefully) reel in the profit you deserve.


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