4 Steps to Conduct Usability Tests

Natali Nascimento


Four steps to conduct Usability Tests
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Usability tests are the practice of testing how easy a design is to use on a group of representative users. It usually involves observing users attempting to complete tasks. And can be done for different types of designs, from user interfaces to physical products or services like the ones you’re creating.

What are usability tests?

A usability test is a technique for determining how usable your product is. It is a way for you to contact your users to see if a design meets their expectations. It helps you make better decisions about the product based on what users need to do.

“What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.” - Margaret Mead

In the quote, you identify all the fundamentals of a usability test experience. Basically, through an observation exercise, you collect information to understand the ease of using a tool, platform, or service.

Therefore, when conducting usability tests, you should observe them using the product or service and not helping them or leading them, so let’s see how you can do it.

Why are usability tests so crucial for your design?

First, they can help you save time, money, and other precious resources. Don't waste time by building the wrong solution.

Second, they allow you to validate if the product or service you're designing meets the expectations of the end-user and the users' mental model.

By combining business decisions with actual use cases of the daily world, those tests will help you make sure that the design is in line with the business decisions or the design decisions you're making.

Unlike marketing research that asks for opinions, you receive user reactions and feedback with a usability test. That will help you get a better design that will work for your users, not prove that you made the right decision.

Finally, usability tests will also help you identify errors in the product flow and architecture from a cognitive point of view. It's a way of checking when you're designing something. You're so close to it that sometimes you don't realize that you may have made a design mistake.

Who should do usability tests and when?

You're not the user of the product you are developing. So, start by recruiting people who fit the target audience of your product. If you have multiple market segments, you might want to run separate usability tests with each segment or choose the most important ones according to your goals.

You should also take into account that the number of users depends on how many segments you're testing and how many types of users you need. When you're doing moderated usability tests, you're making qualitative research. Hence you can use a smaller sample size, like 8-10 users. On the other hand, if you're doing more statistical testing, you want to use a higher sample size.

Another important aspect is to keep your test to 60–90 minutes and about 12–15 tasks. Otherwise, it could be tiring for your users, and you will not get clean data.

When should we start doing usability tests?

The later you wait to do usability tests on a product,  the higher the cost and the more significant the impact it will have on the success of the developed solution. When doing usability tests, you can use:

  1. Low fidelity wireframes

That will help you focus on solving usability and flow issues. The main purpose of the low-fi test is for you to verify and test functionality and usability instead of visual appearance.

  1. Low creation cost

You can do it with paper prototypes. You only need to include key elements to verify that a product meets your users' expectations and has a low work and money investment. Also, give you the possibility to test different ideas.

  1. High fidelity clickable prototypes

​​You can improve the quality of the information in usability tests. Clickable prototypes have all the interface and interactions as the functional end-product and contain realistic and detailed designs. Those are great for you to test product interactivity. That's because the prototyping is quite similar to the final result, so users behave more naturally. Thus it lets you test specific interactions.

  1. If you want to identify issues in an already developed product, you can start by having usability tests with real users before iterating and adding unnecessary features.

Prepare and conduct usability tests

1. Planning

Define goals and scope for your tests

Prepare a usability test plan. You need to decide which areas you're going to concentrate on based on your business and user objectives. Also, provide a foundation for what you will test. 

Define a test scenario. It will give context to the user during the test and don't reveal what you're trying to test. This step is essential to not lead the user to the task you want them to do.

Collaboration is crucial. It will help your clients identify areas of concern that should be addressed through usability testing. You need to decide which areas you're going to test.

Create tasks based on usability test goals. You can use a template to help the user know the tasks he needs to do and help you take notes related to each task.

For setting up your usability test, you should consider which device you will run it on. Then where will you run your test? And when will it occur? Last, how will you record your participants' interactions and thoughts?

A dry run before the real test will help you make sure you have everything you need:

- your tasks make sense, 

- the location you’ve chosen works for your test, 

- and you can successfully record participants' sessions and interactions.

Recruiting users

When setting your goals for your usability test, you should start by recruiting users. It's essential to focus on psychographics (behavior, habits) instead of demographics (with that statistical type of data).

It might take you a little while to get all the participants to start with the recruitment. After, you need to move on to the following steps of the plan while you continue the search to recruit participants.

What do you want to measure?

Mostly, with a usability test, you'll want to measure:

- the success rate of the tasks, 

- how many users were able to complete the tasks fully, 

- or the time they took to complete each task. 

Then you will identify the number of errors per task (of the interface) and how many problems happened while the user was performing the task.

2. Testing

Start by thanking your participants for their help on the usability test. Explain to them the purpose of it and briefly why you want to run the test.

You're going to observe the users during the usability test. So, make sure you tell them that they’re not the ones being tested.

After the initial welcome, you need to follow the guide with the tasks you prepared before performing the test.

During it, ask the users to think out loud. You want to understand the thought processes, expectations, and frustrations of all users. Even the more minor details about what they do should matter. Let them know that you are there to listen.

If you need to talk to the user, ask "reverse questions", such as:  Is that what you expected to happen? Or, I noticed a bit of hesitation there. What stopped you?

Identify problems and solutions

During the usability test, use a template to take notes. Those will help you in the next phase, where you will analyze the results.

But don't forget to determine whether testers can complete tasks successfully and independently. Besides, assess their performance and mental state as they try to complete tasks to see how well your design works. 

That way, you will see how much the users enjoy using the design as well as you'll identify problems and their impact on the product. Consequently, you'll find better and more accurate solutions.

Post-test Interview questions

To gain real insight into your users’ needs, behaviors, goals, and frustrations, ask open-ended questions that do not lead them. Here are some examples:

What’s the hardest part about using this product?

Was there anything surprising or unexpected about this product?

What could be done to improve this product?

What may be missing? What else would you like to see?

What do you like/dislike about the way it works?

How do you think this product is going to help you?

Would you use this product today?

Why do you think someone would use this product?

Or, you can use a SUS template questionnaire to collect data and measure the usability of your product. Here you have more about SystemUsability.Scale 

3. Analysing

With your usability test complete, it’s time to analyze and report on the results! That is when you can start to make sense of what happened during your tests.

You should evaluate user behavior, analyze click patterns, identify problem areas and evaluate navigation. When you review your recordings and notes, you can write each note on a Post-it or small piece of paper. That way, it’ll be easier for you to sort them into groups in the next step.

Try to rate all the usability issues. Like counting how many participants experienced each problem, how many were optimistic about something, or had a smooth user experience. You should then rank the issues according to their impact.

4. Measuring

In this phase, you should re-evaluate recordings, identify design and interface issues. Also, try to identify best practices and leave recommendations.

Usability testing and usability test reports are influencing documents. They are communication tools that help your team make better design decisions and avoid design errors, not user errors, but designer errors.

Here you have an example that can help you organize your report: Usability.gov.template

Want to know more about usability tests?

We recommend the following readings:

  1. Tools that will help you  create prototypes for testing: Invision, Figma, Balsamiq
  2. How can you collect feedback from your users, unassisted tests: Usability-hub, Hotjar, Loop11
  3. What can you use to moderate assisted user testing remotely: Lookback, Loom,
  4. Where you learn more about: Interaction Design Foundation, NNGroup;
  5. Want to know more about planning usability testing: Usability.gov 

To better understand how usability tests can run in your project, ask us for a demo. Our experts are always ready to help boost your designs into more extraordinary user experiences. Send us a message today!


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