What is Usability Testing and why we need it

To design the best UX, we need to pay attention to what our users do, not to what they say; what users claim they do or would do is only speculation that cannot be relied upon. All of us – as users – do not know what we really want, and in usability testing our actions speak much louder than words.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing involves finding actual users that fit your target audience model, and providing them with tasks to interact with the product that you have built while you observe their behaviour and reactions to the product. Usability testing is essential in making sure you build the best experience possible for your users.

Doing usability testing the correct way, at right time and with the right group of users reduces the risk of building the wrong functionality in your product, saving precious time, money and human resources. If usability testing is done at the early prototyping stage, any issues encountered are much easier and cheaper to fix prior to development. Post-release, usability testing provides further data and understanding of the product’s experience success rate – which was driven by previous testing insights – and how it can be improved. ROI for these tests can be easily obtained if done right; the numbers will show on the analytics tool integrated with your product.

Reasons to carry out Usability Testing – by Nielsen Norman Group

What kind of data do you collect from usability tests?

Usability testing is considered as a qualitative research technique since it is not mainly driven by statistics and therefore does not rely on large numbers of people participating. Usability testing is done using a small set of people and based on studies, five is considered as the magic number – the more you have, the less effective it is!

During usability testing, facilitators and researchers observe the users’ body language, hand movement, facial expressions and any readability difficulties, such as squinting eyes during testing on a mobile device.

Data collected during usability testing can be quantitative as well, such as: time spent on doing a task, success and failure rates and also user effort, e.g. how many clicks a user needs in order to complete a task.

Keeping record of these metrics is not only essential for better product design, but for influencing product direction when presented to the rest of the stakeholders including clients, sales and support teams, project managers, developers and so on. Metrics are key in keeping design debates objective by validating designs and making design decisions based on data.

A user is conducting a usability test, together with a facilitator, with devices such as eye trackers attached to the laptop in use. The facilitator is not there to show the user how to use a product, but to encourage feedback, collect data and help out (up to a certain point) if needed.

How to get started with Usability Testing

  1. Find around 5 users that match your product persona/s
  2. Decide which areas to concentrate on
  3. Determine which user flows you want to test and list them in the form of tasks

A product’s UI should be straightforward and easy to use, and usability testing is on of the the best steps in getting there. But to get the most actionable and reliable results, testing must be done in conditions reproduced as close to the actual ones as possible.

There are two main types of usability test: Summative Testing and Formative Testing. Both are carried out at different stages of the design process:

Formative testing: low-fidelity, provides quick insights such as thinking-aloud feedback

  • During the very initial development phase using paper prototypes
  • Can be done anywhere and just between a moderator and a participant

Summative testing: high fidelity, captures metrics such as user success rate and time spent on each action.

  • Carried out at the end of the development stage to validate product usability and provide status against competing products on the market
  • Requires usability labs but can also be done remotely using the many tools available where users can do the test using their computers or mobile phones.
This is a heat map showing the user’s activity on a page by using an eye-tracker. It conveniently portrays how we scan – rather than read – content, and jump from one thing to another. Source: Wikimedia Commons

To Summarise: Top 5 Reasons why Usability Testing is Important for Your Product

1. Validate your prototype and make sure your product reaches expectations.

Having users weighing in on your product early on in the development process is essential before proceeding with locking down a product. Do they understand the purpose and aims of your product? Test on a prototype first to validate your concept and then make plans for future functionality before you invest too much money in building a whole product. Once completed, carry out another usability test uon your product to make sure everything works the way it was planned, and if there are any in-scope improvements required.

2. Identify issues in complex flows and catch minor errors.

User flows that require multiple steps for the users to reach their goal benefit the most from usability testing, as they need to be as straightforward and intuitive as possible. Apart from large-scale errors in complex user journeys, usability tests also help identify smaller errors, such as missed broken links, site errors, and grammatical issues. Though these may look like insignificant details, they collectively contribute to the users’ perception of the product’s – and the company’s – professionalism and trustworthiness. 

3. Develop empathy

All the individual professionals working on the product are susceptible to product tunnel vision: forgetting that they have access to knowledge that the product’s users will most probably not have. Through usability testing, real-time insight into the challenges that users face will increase empathy for the target audience, and encourage the team to look at things from their perspective.

Given the current COVID situation – or maybe the fact that your company is progressively remote-first – usability testing might need to take place remotely. Source: NN Group

4. Get a strong buy-in

While the company might be aware of a product issue, viewing users actually struggle because of it will truly drive it home. Presenting short clips of key usability testing findings can be what persuades the main stakeholders to take a more user-centric direction for the product.

5. Provide the ultimate user experience

We already know that the users say they want one thing, when in reality they do something else. Usability testing is what bridges that gap to great user experience: by discovering what users really do when interacting with your product, the product team can build something truly valuable to the company and users alike.

Ready to start testing your product?