Usability testing


Usability testing is an essential part to building a great product. Recruit participants who use or are likely to use your product. Don't ask leading questions.

What you'll need

  • A facilitator
  • User tasks
  • Participants
  • Dictaphone
  • Pen/paper

A question that often comes up is why we need iterative design and usability testing if we have professional UX designers who should know how to design products.

Without knowledge directly received from users, every UX designer is either completely blind or partially sighted when building a product.

We need usability testing to observe how real users who will be using our product interact with the design. This can help take a product from a functional product, to a good product, to a great product.

Steve Krug, author of Don’t make me think and Rocket surgery made easy suggests that usability testing with just 5 users. He states that just 5 users can help identify 80% of issues that may be a problem with your product or website. There is debate over whether or not this is accurate, but one thing is certainly true: testing with zero users will yield zero issues.

How you carry out usability testing depends on your circumstances, but there are essentially three parts. The facilitator, the tasks and the participant.

The facilitator gives the tasks to the participant; observes and asks questions whilst the participant gives feedback.

The Facilitator

We’ve spoken previously about facilitator roles in ux workshops. In this role, it is important for the facilitator not to influence the participant by asking leading questions. Often, patience is needed when there is silence to give the participant time to think and put together their thoughts. The facilitator is there to ensure that the results from testing are usable and of a good quality to ensure they can be used in improving the design.

If the usability test is a think-aloud test, the facilitator would be required to record the users thoughts, either by writing them down or with a dictaphone.

The Tasks

The tasks you ask participants to undertake should be real tasks on your site or product. The type of task might be focused on completing a specific task, or be open-ended.

As mentioned above, trying not to influence the user is very important, so how the task is written is critical to achieving this.

As an example, try not to use the exact language that appears on your user interface. e.g. if you have a button labelled ‘start fundraising’ a leading question would be ‘how do you start fundraising’ – a better one might be ‘how do you begin raising money for a charity’

You can verbally tell participants what the tasks are, but I prefer to give them a printed version so they can go through at their own pace and ask questions if needed. It also means that you’re not adding cognitive load onto their task(s).

The Participant

Ideally the participants in the usability test should be a current user, or one that is likely to use your product or website. In some cases they might not have used your product before, but they might fit with a target audience persona.

Round up

Hopefully this overview has given you some insight into the structure and needs of a usability test. We’ll go into more depth in other posts, but for now, get testing!

If you want to up your UX game, take the Product Design (UX/UI) Master Course over at DesignerUp