How leading businesses enhance their usability testing

We look at the best practices of discovering objective insights in the midst of usability testing


Launching a new product or service is expensive. In some cases, it can cost millions of dollars to roll out a new innovation. And it is for this reason that businesses need to become more in-tune with their usability testing.

The "why" of usability testing

In the simplest form, usability testing refers to the formal evaluation of a product or service by testing it with a select group of users. Observers watch how these users interact with the product and take copious notes for further analysis. Generally speaking, they are studying five specific components as laid out by UX research and consulting firm Nielson Norman Group:

Learnability: How simple is it for a user to accomplish a basic task the first time they use the product or solution? Is it intuitive?

Efficiency:How quickly are users able to use the product with the intended efficiency?

Memorability:If a user interacts with a product and then steps away for a period of time, do they remember enough about the product to use it with the same efficiency? Or do users have to relearn the process every time?

Errors: How many errors or mistakes do users make? Do they repeat these mistakes? How do they recover from the mistakes?

Satisfaction: How do the users like the product? Is it enjoyable and/or useful?

Usability testing is important for several reasons – many of which are specific to the company or product conducting the testing.

For starters, good usability testing identifies issues earlier on in the developmental process, which shortens the time and energy that goes into wasted development. This results in lower costs and greater profitability.

More importantly, usability testing leads to a better end product that is embraced with a higher degree of satisfaction among the target market. It does not guarantee success, but it prevents glaring issues from ruining a new product rollout.

Four tips for better usability testing

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, for anyone that has ever done usability testing, it quickly becomes evident just how challenging it really is. Here are some tips, suggestions and best practices to guide you along.

Set clear criteria

What information are you trying to glean from the usability testing? While you will inevitably discover things you were not previously aware of, it does help to have some guardrails in place to focus the experience (both for you, as an observer and your participants).

Do not get caught up trying to deliver the perfect product to your participants. In fact, you are probably better off using a minimum viable product (MVP) to prevent distractions and zero in on what really matters.

Recruit the right participants

The people you recruit to be a part of your usability testing will make or break the results. Everyone will interact with your product in unique ways. You want to ensure you are putting the product in front of people who are in your target market. Otherwise, the insights could derail or sidetrack your larger objectives.

It is also smart to keep your test group to a small and manageable size. Many experts recommend a group no larger than five or six participants. You will have to judge what is best for your individual situation.

Look beyond the basics

Basic observation is great, but new technology makes it possible to dig into some of the more specific and minute elements of usability testing. Take video as an example.

"Digital video has become an important component of successful usability testing sessions," Intelligent Video Solutions explains. "Companies use digital video to record usability testings to increase the accuracy of the evaluations, to have a more in-depth understand of the initial impact a design has on the users, and to create video libraries which can be accessed at any time."

Video allows you to go back and review the usability testing session after the fact. It is especially helpful when observing multiple people at once.

As you observe your participants, be sure to focus on the big takeaways and broader trends. Becoming too sensitive to one outlier can push you away from what really matters.

Ask participants to think out loud

Clear expectations on the front end will allow you to gain more from your testing sessions. For example, if you want users to be verbal, make the request known. (in fact this is something you should always ask for).

"Think-aloud protocols, or TAP, involve participants thinking aloud as they are performing a set of specified tasks. Ask them to say whatever they are looking at, doing and feeling as they move through the user interface," UX designer, writer and expert Paul Olyslager advises.

Better testing equals better results

Whether it is a physical product or an advanced piece of enterprise software, better testing will produce better results. As challenging as usability testing can be, it is almost always worth the investment. Take your time, follow the right steps, and look at your product with a fresh set of eyes. In the long run, this extra step will give you the advantage you need.

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