How to Conduct Usability Testing

We’ve previously talked about how market research can help shape the user experience (UX) and drive user engagement. Now let’s get more specific into the user research, or rather the user testing, that takes place in regards to UX and product design in general. Usability testing, one method for determining a UX design, is applied to more industries than just tech. And like many other forms of user research, it can incorporate a variety of methodologies.

The Process of Usability Testing

Simply put, usability testing is understanding how easy or difficult a product is to use, as defined by the end user. However, in many cases, it is far more intuitive than that. A more defined definition of usability testing is measuring and analyzing the actual tasks or actions users take in order to achieve an end goal. The goals can range from purchasing a product on a website, to contacting customer service, to unpacking a product from the box for the first time.

More often, the tasks in a usability test associated with completing a goal also relate to a business’s profitability, customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, or similar performance metrics. The more difficult it is for the user to execute a task or action, the more significant the findings and implications will be for that product or business. Usability testing can be executed in two different ways: through observation or reporting. In other words, researchers can watch a customer complete tasks towards a goal or ask the customer to tell them the actions they’d take to arrive at that goal. Each of these approaches utilize the same process:

  1. Identify the target audience and classify them into user groups (if applicable)
  2. Map out the user experience to hypothesize or determine the tasks to be done based on the user’s end goal and objectives of the usability test
  3. Utilize a method of usability testing to conduct user testing
  4. Analyze the results by mapping out the different routes taken by the user groups

Methods, Advantages, Disadvantages

There are four main types of usability testing including explorative, comparative, competitive, and learning:

  • Explorative seeks to identify problems in the user journey
  • Comparative, like benchmark testing, compares a change from one product or concept to the next to confirm whether that change has a positive impact or improves the user experience
  • Competitive testing can be used to determine why users choose a competitor’s product over yours while identifying opportunities for improvement in order to encourage switching or a competitive advantage
  • Learning is used to understand how user behavior and a user’s ability to execute tasks changes over time—this is particularly useful for understanding how quickly users will adopt new features

Incorporating any one of these usability testing types into product development can help to increase customer satisfaction and usage among users. Other advantages to usability testing includes the identification of unanticipated problems and the ability to avoid projecting what the product team thinks to be a user problem, and instead validating it with the end user.

Often usability testing is done on a smaller scale, so sometimes assumptions have to be made about the larger user group. It can also can be difficult to assess the impact external environmental factors might have on a user outside of usability testing. However, usability testing is critical to a variety of industries because it is still successful in identifying opportunities, problems, and improvements to the user experience.

Ultimately, it’s always better to run things by the end user and understand how a consumer uses a product. Learning to conduct usability testing in an agile, iterative way can have a significant impact on how product teams approach new development and innovations. To see how Google used our agile research methods to incorporate user feedback and stay innovative, check out the case study below.

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