A Beginner’s Guide to Usability & User Testing

In a digital world that mainly relies on a customer-centric approach and data-driven technologies, collecting users’ feedback, feelings and experiences is key to developing successful products, be they apps, websites, products or services.

In order to design products and services that truly answer needs and fit customers’ expectations, effective companies use iterative design processes whose sole purpose is to constantly allow for a better user experience.

Usability testing is all about asking people and monitoring how intuitive and how easy is it to use a product.

Many people assume that usability testing only happens at the pre-launch design phase.

This is utterly wrong.

In fact, developing an iterative design process implies implementing repeated user tests at every stage of your product life cycle.

Why?

Mostly because your product will undergo multiple new versions, features and services that will all require user tests to validate assumptions.

Because digital marketers and UX researchers have long studied the methods and processes to harvest user insights, many different usability testing options have emerged in recent years.

What exactly is Usability Testing?

Usability Testing and User Tests

Usability tests are processes designed to observe and track real users while they use a product to measure its usability and user-friendliness in order to achieve marketing objectives.

Moderated or not, your usability tests are meant to harvest users’ insights in order to develop an efficient user experience and design an overall better product.

Usability tests are used to confront assumptions before launching a new product or releasing a new feature.

They are also useful to measure a product’s efficiency in its current version in order to identify possible pain points and therefore solve them.

Your Objectives behind Usability Testing

Because development and marketing teams often have to cope with tight deadlines and management pressure; the temptation to skip any usability testing phase can be strong.

But this could cost you a lot.

In fact, usability testing should be included in your product development roadmap from the beginning.

That way, you’ll be certain to have time to actually carry out proper user tests.

Why is usability testing so important?

As a product developer, your job is to deliver a product or service that is:

  • Efficient
  • User-friendly
  • Profitable

In order to achieve these 3 objectives, your goal is to gather as much feedback as you can before actually releasing the product or the feature.

With this in mind, your user tests will have to deliver meaningful insights that will eventually lead to product updates.

Note: the objectives behind usability testing differ from one product to another.

However, here are some crucial objectives that can be tracked through user tests, regardless of your company’s product.

  1. Do people enjoy using your product?
  2. Are users able to successfully complete pre-determined tasks?
  3. Does the product match your core target’s expectations?
  4. How easy to use is your product?
  5. Are users pleased with the interface, colors, buttons, forms?

Now that we covered the general aspects behind usability testing, let’s take a closer look at the different types of usability tests that you can implement in order to develop a better product.

Moderated & Unmoderated User Tests

a) Moderated User Tests

What are moderated user tests?

Moderated user testing consists of different tests run on users with the presence of moderators.

These moderators will guide test participants, answer their questions and harvest useful feedback.

Although moderators might interfere with the live experience, moderated tests are useful to ask precise questions at very specific stages in order to collect targeted feedback based on assumptions.

These tests are a great opportunity for companies developing prototypes that require extensive feedback in the early design phases.

Using moderated tests, you will be able to gather actionable insights that will save your company precious time and money that would otherwise have been spent on a costly inefficient prototype.

Key takeaway: moderated user tests are specifically adapted to early-stage products and services because moderators can guide participants through the process. However, be careful so that your moderators don’t actually tell users what to do: the user experience has to remain natural.

Good to know: moderated user tests can either be run remotely or with the actual presence of participants.

Naturally, having users to come to you or vice versa will cost you more than remote tests.

Although both types of tests are viable, you will usually generate more reaction from the participants during a real live test than a remote test.

b) Unmoderated User Tests

As the name suggests, unmoderated user tests are led without any supervision from your side.

Generally, these types of test are run remotely without the presence of a moderator.

These tests require the use of specific tools or SaaS platforms to automatically gather user insights and record their interactions for a delayed analysis.

During unmoderated tests, users are assigned pre-determined tasks to complete and are invited to express their thoughts and struggles out loud.

Using this solution, your company will then analyze users’ reactions that have been recorded during the tests.

Key Takeaway: unmoderated tests are definitely cheaper and easier to implement. Solution providers like UserTesting can deliver ready-to-use panels tailored to your core target in a matter of hours, which is extremely convenient compared to having to manually recruit participants.

Because there’s no involvement from your side apart from designing and reviewing user tests, unmoderated tests can also be run simultaneously and on a much larger scale.

Good to know: unmoderated tests don’t necessarily replace moderated tests – they rather complete each other.

Because there will be no supervision from your side, it is highly advised to craft crystal-clear guidelines and expectations to avoid confusion among users.

Focus Groups

Focus Group

Focus groups are specific processes that consist in inviting approximately 10 participants to discuss their needs and expectations about your product.

These tests can be run both before and after a product’s release – depending on your objectives.

Contrary to moderated user tests, focus groups are used to discuss participants’ needs, expectations and feelings about your product rather than just evaluating your design’s usability.

Typically, moderators will create a set of predetermined questions that will lead to multiple discussions regarding how participants feel about your product or certain features.

Key Takeaway: focus groups are useful to gather insights about your users’ potential needs and expectations. Used in complement with moderated or unmoderated user tests, they will provide meaningful feedback that can be leveraged to create new features or rethink the user interface.

Beta Tests & Surveys

Although they truly differ from other user tests, beta tests can be extremely useful to provide your usability testing process with a more quantitative approach.

Simply put, beta tests consist in giving access to a new feature or product to a restrained number of voluntary participants.

Because beta tests require a large sample, companies can find it difficult to recruit a sufficient and representative number of beta-testers for the test to be viable.

However, beta tests can become a priceless opportunity to uncover many usability issues at once, comforted by a large variety of opinions coming from hundreds or thousands of participants.

Particularly popular in the video game industry, beta tests can also be used to test your MVP (minimum viable product) before your final product actually launches.

surveys and online questionnairesUsing the same quantitative approach, surveys and online questionnaires are a cheap, quick and semi-reliable way to gather feedback on your product.

For these to work, you will have to address the right audience if you want relevant answers to appear in your questionnaires.

Surveys are useful when it comes to quantitative comparison.

Example: Your company develops a new fashion marketplace and hesitates between two logo designs: you could send survey questionnaires to your target audience that would ask to choose between the two designs.

A/B Tests

Agreed, these tests are a bit different – but they really work.

As opposed to most of the other tests we’ve mentioned, A/B tests are run on your product’s current version in order to determine which of two design options is better.

A/B Testing and User Tests

Example: let’s say that your company runs an ecommerce website and recently created a new product page layout. Your team wants to decide between the two layouts (version A & B) without compromising on conversions: they will use A/B testing to sort this out and choose a “winner” from these two options.

A/B tests can be conveniently used to track all sorts of “goals” depending on your website or product – which is extremely convenient to gather data and boost your current product’s usability and user-friendliness.

 

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Anthony Brebion

Anthony is Product Marketing Manager @ABTasty. He was previously SEO consultant and worked several years in digital ad houses. He’s now an A/B testing and optimization evangelist.

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