How to implement usability testing

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Usability testing is one of UX research methods. It performs an important role in the user experience process. This post if for companies who want to start testing their product and for a beginner UX designers. I will explain the importance of implementing UX in general and give you tips for conducting your first usability testing session.

Why should you implement UX within your company?

Because usability is a feature. It’s an essential competitive advantage for businesses. Every dollar spent on UX will bring 2$ to 100$ in return.

Higher revenues

Implementing UX principles allows you to make fewer changes downstream. It means earlier time on the market.
Users will use whole system’s functionality instead of just a subset.
An easy to use product involves fewer calls to a customer service.

Loyal customers

Loyal customers generate repeat business, are immune to competition, provide higher margins, and are less price sensitive. They also provide free word-of-mouse exposure.

Improved brand value

Customers learn how to use the system more quickly. Higher service quality leads to improved customer satisfaction. Users can focus on their goals rather than the technology, and this leads to increased productivity and fewer errors.

Process improvement

Less rework is required to meet customer requirements. 80% of software rewrites are because developers missed the necessary functionality the first time. The process keeps developers focused on an important business metrics, such as conversion rates for websites. Risks are managed and reduced by helping you prioritize features and product offerings.

As you can see, implementing UX is reasonable. I won’t cover the whole UX process in this post. Instead, I will focus on the usability testing. I find it one of the most important parts of the user experience design process.

I suggest start with a moderated usability test of a prototype. You should run this type of testing as early as possible and repeat after creating the new design to define the most significant errors and prevent rework. Check the design sprint used by Google Ventures. The process has five logical steps:

1. Research
2. Plan
3. Preparation
4. Test
5. Analysis

1. Research

Think UX in every situation. Who are the users? What content is available? Put these things into the right context. First of all, before testing, you need to specify who are the users and what do you want to test. Do some research. Define who are your users, what goals and pain points they have. Try to create personas.

Don’t run test just for a test. You need to experiment design assumptions, e.g. would users understand what that label means or that this section is scrollable. So, write down the list of your design assumptions.

2. Plan

The next step is a testing script. It can be a simple Word document which contains the lists of assumptions and participants, intro (brief) and a list of tasks.

You’d have already made the list of design ideas you want to test. Also, from the research step, you know who your users are. For the usability test, you need just five users. This number of participants lets you find about 85% of usability problems. It’s almost as many as you’d find using many more test participants.

At this stage, you also want to recruit the participants. These can be even co-workers and friends if they meet the requirements. Important note: they should be unfamiliar with the product.

In general, every test participant should be compensated in the end; this can be, for instance, Starbucks gift certificate.

List the names of each user in your script document.

Intro (Brief)

The intro is your introduction for participants. It should be presented in the document as the helper text for yourself not to forget anything. The key points which you should mention are that you are not testing the user and that you want to know what they honestly think: e.g. “We are testing an application, not you. We want to hear what you exactly think. You can’t do anything wrong here.” Here is a good example of a testing brief by Steve Krug.

Tasks

You should prepare a list of 7-10 real scenario tasks which will test your design assumptions. Each task might have the following structure in the document: task (what user have to do), actions (what user need to do to accomplish this particular task), response (how the system/prototype will respond to user’s actions).

Usability testing task example | Digital Flask - UX agency, Helsinki, Finland

3. Preparation

Schedule a meeting for each participant. Usually, the testing session takes about 30 minutes per user. You can do the testing by yourself, but it’s always good to have at least one more person who will be taking notes. It’s a good idea if this will be one of the stakeholders, e.g. project manager.

Prepare an Excel file for the results. Present tasks, participants, success rate, satisfaction rate, identified issues in that sheet.

Usability testing task completion example | Digital Flask - UX agency, Helsinki, Finland

For instance, identifies issues: task (task’s number), description (description of a problem) and occurred (how many times this issue happened in this session).

Set up an environment

Find a quite place to run a prototype test. Your prototype should be ready, run a sample test by yourself to make sure everything works correctly. That could be a paper prototype, static HTML page, InvisionApp’s prototype, etc.

Prepare the hardware. It’s also a good idea to make a video or screen recordings, so you need to set up this as well.

You might also want to prepare a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

4. Test

Test participants individually. Start with your introduction to explain what are you going to do, that you want the participant to think out loud, that their questions will be answered in the end because you want to know how people do when they don’t have someone sitting next to them. Ask if they have any questions before the start. Sign the NDA if needed.

Usability testing | Digital Flask - UX agency, Helsinki, Finland

After the introduction, show the initial state of the system you are going to test to the user. You may ask first what the user think it is, on what he would click.

While testing, you should give participants the tasks to do from the list. They will perform, and it’s important that they will think out loud. You, and your assistant, if you have one, should watch them, take notes (e.g. quotes; video or audio record of a session is also a good idea), and help the user accomplish the task if they are stuck.

Don’t forget to thank and compensate each participant in the end.

5. Analysis

After testing session, it’s time to prepare a report and analyze the results. UX report is a document similar to test script. List there again the participants and the tasks. Then write down the results from your Excel file. You should highlight the errors which appeared most of the times or which stopped the user from accomplishing the task.

Write down the list of key takeaways as well as notable quotes from users, e.g. “So it shows me `swipe right to done`. Okay, let’s swipe it (swiping in the middle of the screen)”.

iOS app prototype | Digital Flask - UX agency, Helsinki, Finland

The output of every usability testing session are recommendations for improvements to designs. It’s time to analyze and brainstorm your user experience report with team members. After brainstorming, you should have a list of recommendations.

Usability testing brainstorm | Digital Flask - UX agency, Helsinki, Finland

User experience design process contains constant design iteration. You should test the new version of the prototype after implementation these recommendations.

Conclusion

Follow the steps from this post to conduct your first usability testing session to improve your product, save time and money.

I am very passionate about the user experience design and especially user insights. That’s why I founded a UX agency – Digital Flask to help tech startups implement user-centered design principles within their organizations. Feel free to contact us, if you need help with usability testing or any other UX research.