How to Perform Usability Testing in 5 Steps

March 12, 2019
Athar Majeed

Considering usability testing? No hassle, here is a guideline to assist you maneuver through the process and successfully analyze the obtained data. Usability testing is the one of the best practice when executing UX research. It checks how well a product works, the ability of users to handle tasks and the weight of experience gathered from the intended application or website.

So if you are new to this technique or are in need of refining your usability studies, this guide will show you how to perform usability testing and gain maximum results.

Usability Testing: The Highlights

  • Being a test that shows how easy real users can use a product, usability testing depicts how a product or service supports users when accomplishing various goals and how easy and quick they do this.
  • There are three main forms of usability testing; moderate remote, moderate in-person and unmoderated remote.
  • While both moderate in-person and moderate remote takes two to tango, the participant and the facilitator, the former is done in one shared location while the latter having them in different locations. Unmoderated remote involves an administrator who provides a set of tests on a number of people.
  • Usability testing can be done from the beginning of the design process. It allows major and minor tweaking here and there that would improve ideas and concepts suggested earlier.
  • This effective UX technique is based on user behavior and from that standpoint, it’s hard to contradict data obtained from a good representation of participants. It also produces specific results required for specific action, saving time and even money in the long run.

Read Also: 11 Tips to Improve Design Thinking

A Five Step Guide in Usability Testing

Step 1 – Establish Goals

Here, you get to clarify your intentions for the study. The following question guides the process when setting goals like:

  • What’s the end game for the test?
  • Why do we need the test?
  • What key parts should be tested?
  • What kind of participants is best fit for the test?
  • What is the current development category of the product?

Establishing goals will go a long way in assessing the time needed for the study, the number of participants required and the cost of undertaking the test. In order to gain the best results, it is suggested that 5-9 participants should be picked for the study since 5 participants tell 80% while 9 participants tell 95% of the mistakes and problems with the product, to their best knowledge.

Step 2 – Prepare and Plan the Usability Study

Once goals are set, preparation and planning for the study follows. Preparation involves identifying the type of tool like Prototyping you need to get the job done and taking down the questions meant for the participants.

An order for the study can be structured and grouped into three stages; the pre-question stage, the task stage and the post-question stage. All these stages have different activities.

The pre-question stage should warm up your participants (both existing and new users) establishing an overall feel about the product and the test. Questions prepared may include:

  • What is the product according to their perspective? And what do they use it for?
  • If they are new to the subject, are their expectations met with the product or feature and how was the experience?
  • Also what are the key actions they would like to do with the new feature?

The task stage is the bulk of the study where the user’s hand-on experience is tested. In order to get the best from this stage, you should consider the following; the tasks are neatly arranged and they make sense, watch out for independencies and dependencies between tasks and use of jargons is refrained.

The post-question stage sums up the feeling the participants had when going through the test. You can ask participant to rate their experience in terms of ease of use, effectiveness, value, satisfaction and efficiency. You can also ask their pleasure and pain points when using the product.

Read Also: 5 Important Things to Know About Product Design

Step 3 – Recruit Your Participants

The required number of participants, as recommended, for a given usability test stands at five. Sourcing valid participants depends on the purposes of the study.   You can profile them from beginners to experts, content creators to site builders, new users and existing users.

Participants can be recruited externally and internally (dogfooding).  So where can they be found? Based on the products target audience, you can fish them out from social media platforms, personal connection (friends, colleagues and family), Web and UX designers’ meet-ups, and also the company’s camps and cons.  

Step 4 – Start the Test

Start by creating a quiet, comfortable space and remind your participants their role in the test. Put your things in order, for example recording equipment and scripts prior to inviting the user. After the user has settled, introduce yourself and give a recap of the test. Encourage them to think out loud and ask them to be candid enough when pouring out their views on the product, how well they can use it without help and emphasize that you are not testing them but rather the product.

Employ consistency at this stage and practice the same task, same order and same words with every participant. The results obtained from this session also depend on the attitude of the moderator. To ensure you have the right mindset as a moderator, here are some tips to guide you:   

  • Respect the participant, avoid being judgmental.
  • Create comfort and emphasis that the test is intended for the product, not them. This will make them feel at ease
  • Let the users chat away, while also preparing yourself for silent situation.
  • Avoid interrupting the user. Look out for discomfort, signs of frustration and other expressive non-verbal cues.
  • Create a relation with the participant and avoid being unbiased.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask back and avoid telling a lot of information.

Finally, take notes of the process or review from the recordings while highlighting situations where the user was not at ease. Also thank them for their input plus participation.

Step 5 – Evaluation

This part involves analysis and reporting where feedbacks are categorized and patterns are made sense of. Your report should also include qualitative findings and actionable insights based on the behavior of the users.

From your analysis, take down rates provided by the users and create a severity scale associated with every issue. Then write up a well-informed report addressing key points from the stages described above.  

And that is how to perform usability testing, and when followed through and through, relevant sufficient data will be obtained for implementation.

Getting the Most Out of Usability Testing?

Since usability testing looks out for customer satisfaction, effectiveness and efficiency of the product, it makes it the best type of UX research to consider especially for large organization with consistent online presence. To get maximum value from usability testing, make sure your goals are well elaborated and relevant to the product or feature being tested, employ the method right from the beginning (when designing a product for the first time) and involve your clients and stakeholders, sharing your findings and insights.


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