The complete guide to conduct usability testing

The complete guide to conduct usability testing

The What, Where, How and When of usability testing

- Rick,
10th March 2018

In this world where consumer is the king, usability and user experience has become the topmost priority of the businesses across the globe. It has become a weapon of getting the competitive edge among companies by keeping the user at the center of their business model. Companies want their products to be the easiest to use, with maximum features. This is achieved by teams working day and night to deliver the best experience to their users. But as famously said by usability expert Jacob Nielson:

"The only stakeholder missing in the stakeholder meeting is the user"

It is clear that despite the increasing focus of the companies towards providing the easiest to use solution to their customers, they are trying to achieve this by without involving users in the key decision-making process. Some of the design led organizations across the world have realized the mistake they are committing and have created a method with which they can ensure that they are delivering the best user experience.

Usability testing is a method of testing the ease of use of a product or service where users are involved early in the design phase itself to test designs and identifying the defects and improving it. This helps business to save cost in a way that the cost of correcting a flaw in the design phase is much less than to bear the cost of delivering a badly designed solution to the users.

"The cost of correcting the flaw in the design phase is 100x less than than cost of correcting a flaw post everything is created of developed"
cost of bad design
To understand any topic in depth you need to have answers to the What, the When, How and Where of it. So, without wasting much time let's dive into this.

"The What"

What is Usability Testing?

As Wikipedia states:

"Usability testing is a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice, since it gives direct input on how real users use the system."

Usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with the target users. Typically, during a test, participants will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems, collect qualitative and quantitative data and determine the participant's satisfaction with the product. This data then converts into actionable items for improving the product or service. Once all the action items and user feedback is taken into consideration, it again goes through testing and the cycle repeats until the users are completely satisfied with the product or service.

"The When"

When to do Usability Testing?

Taking reference from HCD tool kit, a typical user centered design process looks like this:
human centered design
A user centered design process begins from the empathize phase where a designer steps in the shoes of the users to understand the problems faced by the users. Entire user research is done in this step to identify all the pain points. These pain points are then analyzed to define the problem statement for the design team. A sample problem statement could be like "Design a low cost mobile device to measure blood pressure for diabetic patients."

Once the problem statement is defined, the team then ideates on all the possible solutions to solve the problem. The focus here is not on the feasibility of the solutions but on the quantity of unique out of box solutions. Post the ideation is done, prototypes are developed for the best 2-3 promising ideas. Now this is a right place for usability testing to be done in the design phase itself. A couple of usability testing iterations in the design phase and a couple again post product development should ideally suffice the shipping criterion for a product.

"The How"

How to do Usability Testing?

Now here things start to get serious and subject matter experts come in to carry out a proper usability test which gives the best insights. There are various ways in which a usability testing can be carried out:
  1. Remote & onsite testing

    In remote usability testing, a tester participant or a real user can be located anywhere in the world and need to be in front of the person conducting the test. On the other hand, while conducting an onsite testing the tester and conductor are at the same place.

  2. Moderated & Un-moderated testing

    In moderated user testing, the test conductor is always there to help the tester in case he is stuck and to make sure that the tester does not lose the context. Whereas, in unmoderated testing test conductor does not oversee the tester while he is taking a usability test.

Now there are several types of usability tests which can be done to identify the user acceptance ratio. The choice of a usability test depends on the variety of factors like the product, target audience, feedback sought etc. Here are some of the conditions where a one or combination of tests can help you identify the design flaws and come up with the best design for your users.
  1. Stuck with design variations?

    When you are stuck with 2 or more design variations and your team is not able to decide as to which design you should proceed with the below test plan can help you out:

    AB Test: Compare 2 design variations and ask the users which is the one they like. Choose the winner with the highest confidence level.

    Click test: You can create two click tests where users will be asked to do a particular task on each of the design. You can then see the heatmap of the clicks on the design itself to identify which design is more intuitive for the users.

    An example of results from an AB test in

    ab test

    See full sample results of an AB test in

  2. Landing page conversion optimization

    As a marketer or a designer you understand the importance of a landing page the impact it has on the marketing budgets. So, it is of prime importance to keep working on optimizing the conversion rate of a landing page. In case you are coming up with a new design of your landing page the following tests can be helpful:

    Click test: Give a task to your users like "Where would you click to go to cart?". By seeing the heatmap and click data you can identify if the users are clicking at the designation buttons of your landing page.

    First glance test: Popularly known as the 5 second test, a design is shown to the users for 5 seconds and then the user is asked certain questions which he has to answer on the basis of what he remember in those 5 seconds of viewing the design. By analyzing the answers given by the testers you can easily identify if your landing page is giving the right impression to your users.

    An example of results from a click test in

    first click test

    See full sample results of a Click test in

  3. Landing page conversion optimization

    Graphical user interfaces(GUI) can get really confusing while you are designing a complex user journey. To make sure that the users are able to get what the interface is really about it is important that the necessary usability tests are carried out for the designed interface. The following user interface testing plan may prove to be helpful:

    First glance test: An interface is shown to the users for 5 seconds and then the users are asked certain questions based on their 5 second memory. If all the important information is easily absorbed by the users in the 5 seconds, the designed interface would then be a really good one. Ask questions about all kinds of information that is being conveyed through the interface and see how much precision you can get in the answers from testers.

    Question test: If the interface is really confusing and 5 seconds are simply not enough to grasp the information that need to be conveyed to the tester then you can go for a question test where a designed interface is always visible to the tester along with which he needs to answer certain questions. This really is the case while designing complex B2B applications where there is a lot of data that needs to be displayed.

    An example of results from a question test or a first glance test in

    first glance test

    See full sample results of a Question test in

    See full sample results of a First glance test in

"The Where"

Where to do Usability testing?

Now depending upon the complexity of the product or service being tested, usability tests can be carried out either remotely or onsite. It also depends upon the amount and kind of test data you need to capture. If you want to collect data like heat maps, answers to questions, preferences between options, navigation flow comprehension then a remote usability testing would be sufficient enough. But let's just say you have designed a safety mechanism interface for a nuclear power plant, you would want to capture much more granular level of data like cognitive load, error rate, eye tracking etc. For capturing such details of usability data, there has to be a testing setup which is a replica of the actual usage environment. The testing setup may also include data capturing instruments like an eye tracking machine.
A setup for onsite usability testing inside a testing lab.
A setup for onsite usability testing inside a testing lab. (Image Source)
With this I hope you would have got an overview of usability testing and all the peculiarities involved. I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for your time and feel free to add your comments below and let me know your thoughts about this article.

Author: Rick from


ux audit facebook comments

Get latest articles in your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter & we promise we won't spam