What is usability testing

Usability testing is a critical step in the design thinking process. UX teams can present their solutions to those whose problems they are trying to solve. What an exciting yet interesting experience!

Usability testing (also called usability research) is the process of testing interfaces and interaction scenarios with real users. The UX researcher (moderator or facilitator) asks the participant to complete a series of tasks (usually in a digital product prototype) while observing their behavior and actions.

The moderator may ask the participant to speak out loud their thoughts and comment on actions so that UX researchers can understand how the person feels and thinks during the use of the prototype.

Why do UX teams conduct usability tests?

Usability testing helps UX teams learn more about users and gain valuable feedback and insights from them, including:

  • Does design solve user problems?
  • What usability flaws need to be fixed?
  • What can be improved?

This is an iterative process consisting of the following steps: testing, identifying problems / obtaining additional information about users, making changes, retesting.

The end goal is to fix and improve the prototype as much as possible before handing it off to developers.

Usability Testing vs UX Testing

There is often confusion and debate about the relationship between UX testing and usability testing. These terms should not be used interchangeably as they cover different areas of testing.

Usability testing – concerns the usability and performance of interfaces, navigation, micro-interactions, etc.
UX Testing is concerned with the enjoyment and satisfaction of people in the process of using a digital product.
Although we share these concepts, UX researchers test usability and UX (user experience) at the same time.

For example, one UX researcher might observe how a participant performs a task (usability testing), while another examines the actions and behavior of the user (UX testing).

These important metrics should always be taken into account during product testing. If the user is able to complete the task, the UX designer will consider that he did everything right. But what if the person felt annoyed or frustrated while doing it? In this case, he is more likely to choose the competitor’s product with the best UX.

Types of usability testing

There are 2 main usability testing methods:

  • Moderated tests
  • Unmoderated tests

UX teams can use both methods for both remote and conventional usability testing.

Moderated tests

During moderated usability testing, the facilitator interacts with the participant – sets tasks for him, observes, asks questions. UX teams can conduct such research in the lab or remotely using Zoom, Skype, or dedicated testing tools.

Benefits of moderated usability testing:

  • the moderator makes sure that the participant correctly understands and completes the task,
  • the moderator can interact with the participant, asking questions about his actions, responses and behavior.

This ensures that UX teams receive accurate and meaningful feedback.

Disadvantages of moderated usability testing:

  • careful planning is required – you need to find a venue, participants, coordinate the time with the team’s schedule, find equipment, etc.
  • more resources are required, testing costs increase
  • small number of participants due to time and financial constraints

Unmoderated tests

During unmoderated usability testing, the facilitator is not present, but the participant is given instructions on what tasks they must complete. The participant can perform these tasks in the lab, in the field (in an environment where people typically use the product), or remotely.

Benefits of Unmoderated Usability Testing:

  • researchers can test multiple participants at the same time,
  • much cheaper because it does not require as many resources as a moderated study.

Disadvantages of unmoderated usability testing:

  • you rely entirely on the participants to understand the task and instructions without additional help – this can lead to errors and inconsistent results.

Usability Testing Methods

Card sorting

Card sorting is a technique that is used early in usability research to test the hierarchy of elements and create the site’s information architecture.

The moderator asks the participants to sort the cards by topic or category, usually in order of importance or relevance.

Paper prototypes

Paper prototyping is another method that is suitable for early stage research. It is used by UX teams to evaluate user scenarios and information architecture.

Such prototypes are rarely tested with participants, since any usability tests are quite expensive, and paper prototypes do not allow you to get meaningful feedback from users.

However, they do provide some basic information about user expectations regarding site navigation.

Digital low-detail prototypes

Digital Low-Detailed Prototypes – A series of wireframes for testing user scenarios and simple navigation. As with paper prototypes, they provide only limited feedback on the user experience.

Highly detailed prototypes

Testing highly detailed prototypes allows UX teams to get accurate, meaningful feedback. Participants use a functional version of the end product to complete tasks.

Click tracking

Click tracking provides UX designers with information about which prototype elements users are clicking on. In this way, you can find out where the participants click most often (or touch, if we are talking about the touch screen of a mobile device).

Use click tracking to check link structure or how easy it is for users to identify buttons and calls to action.

Eye tracking (ey-tracking)

UX researchers use eye-tracking devices to find out how participants explore an interface and what elements grab their attention first. This information helps UX designers decide how to position elements on the screen, as well as where to place the CTA.

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