Usability Testing

A Guide on How to Conduct Usability Testing

Usability Testing

Usability testing is a powerful technique that helps you to test a product among a set of participants. This test helps to evaluate the product in terms of both user experience and functionality and highlights any shortcomings that need to be resolved before developing and launching the product.

There are three key elements of a usability test:

  • Participants
  • Tasks
  • Facilitator/Moderator

Participants are the users who will be testing the product by performing the assigned tasks and a moderator helps to conduct the test and resolve any impediments that participants can face during the test.

The moderator observes the participants how they are using the product and records their responses and actions that help to build the usability testing report.

Why is Usability Testing Important?

Usability testing helps to improve the usability and user experience of a product in the following ways.

  • It identifies the users’ pain points that need a revision in terms of usability
  • It provides a list of improvements for consideration
  • It gives an idea of user behavior when they are using the product

Skipping the usability testing step in the software development lifecycle can lead to a product that may not fulfill the user requirements. Usability testing plays an important role in knowing the required improvements that should be made to the product before delivering it to the client.

Usability Testing Types

There are different types of usability testing.

1. Moderated vs. Unmoderated

The moderated testing requires moderators/supervisors who can run the usability test. They need to elaborate the test to participants, answer their questions, and resolve any issues that participants face during the test.

The unmoderated testing covers a more specific topic or task where participants are required to complete the task without any help. There is no supervisor or moderator available that can provide support to the participants. 

2. Remote vs. In-Person

The remote usability testing involves participants from different remote locations. Participants are sitting anywhere in the world using their own equipment and devices to test the given tasks and features. Remote usability testing can be done over the internet or a phone call.

Whereas in-person testing requires a moderator that can run the testing process among participants sitting at the same physical location. The moderator and participants can see, observe, and interact with each other.

A remote usability testing can be moderated or unmoderated.

3. Explorative vs. Comparative

Explorative usability testing is done at the early design stage of the product where participants are asked to explore different design ideas and identify any gaps. Based on this feedback, it is decided which features should be made part of the product.

Comparative testing on the other hand is done to compare a website or product with another product and identify the positive and negative things in both products.

UX Courses

Usability Testing Methods

A number of methods can be followed to conduct usability testing. A detail of commonly used methods is given below.

1. Lab Usability Testing

The Lab usability testing method involves a moderator, a limited number of participants, a set of observers, a laboratory environment where the test can be conducted, and the required number of devices including computers and mobiles.

In this method, the moderator administers the test and provides the participants with a list of tasks they need to perform using the given product. The moderator’s role is very important, and he needs to provide his support to participants, however, he is not supposed to guide them on how they should proceed with their tasks. The observers usually sit in an adjacent place separated by a mirror and they keenly observe the participants.

2. Guerrilla Usability Testing

The Guerrilla testing method allows you to find participants randomly and request them to test your product. You need to identify the specific tasks that you want to test and elaborate on them to your participants. They usually give you their 5-10 minutes and provide you with the required feedback after performing their tasks.

3. Card Sorting

Card sorting is a simple method of getting user feedback. This method involves several cards, say 30 to 40, listing different concepts of the product to be tested. The participants are required to sort these concepts into categories and name those categories. 

After doing this, the moderator asks the participants why they have arranged the card in this way, thus knowing the logical reasoning behind their thinking. This testing mainly shows the layout and navigation of the product that the participants want to see. This helps to identify what flow of the product will work best for the users.

How to Conduct Usability Testing?

The following steps are required to conduct a successful usability test.

Step 1: Plan Test

Planning is the most important step in the process. Plan your test properly as the remaining steps are dependent on how you plan at this stage. Before initiating the test, make sure that the part of the design in the form of a prototype or a working product is ready for testing.

Identify the goal of testing: Identify the goal you want to achieve from this exercise. Do you want to improve your product based on user feedback? Do you want to study the behavior of real users?

Define the problem you want to test: What kind of problems will help you get more from your participants and will be more beneficial for you to make design decisions.

With whom it is tested: Identify the number of participants required to perform these tasks. Focus on real users and identify the participants that closely match with real users.

Decide about the method: Decide about the method you will use to conduct the testing. Whether you will observe the users, record their interactions, or interview them to get their feedback.

Decide on a Location: Reserve a lab for testing where users can perform the tasks comfortably without any interruptions.

Equipment Availability: Make sure the required equipment is available for testing including computers, mobiles, seating, etc. Also, if the session needs to record, the recording arrangements should be well managed before time.

Step 2: Recruit Participants

Before starting this step, you will have an idea of the test that you are going to conduct. It will help you to identify the type of participants required for the test.

Look for participants that match closely with the real users: For this purpose, if you have a product or a website, find your real users from there. Ask your clients to provide you the users that can test your product.

Interview the participants: Selecting the right participants is the key to success for the usability test. The most appropriate participants you select, the most accurate and useful feedback will you receive. Follow the recruiting process and know about their habits and interests and then finalize the participants based on the collected input.

Don’t forget to reward your participants: Since you are hiring the participants for testing of your product, decide on some amount, or a personal favor that you are going to provide them for their time and input.

Step 3: Define Tasks

Defining the tasks and scenarios that you are going to test with your participants is an important step of the test preparation.

Identify the most frequently accessed tasks: The most frequent tasks are the most important to test. Identify these tasks and prioritize them as per the expected frequency with which the user is going to perform them.

Define scenarios: Instead of giving them one task after another, identify a situation, and define scenarios for the users to perform in that situation. A single scenario can cover multiple tasks in a flow and will help you better evaluate the participants’ actions throughout the flow.

Step 4: Conduct Testing

When the test day and time arrive, welcome your participants and start running the test. The moderator needs to introduce himself and get to know about participants and start the test in a pleasant environment.

Start with the first task: The moderator needs to give the participants an overview of the task they need to perform. Provide them with the necessary details and make sure they can start the task with the provided equipment without any delays. 

Do not instruct them about the task and the flow they need to follow. However, make sure to remain available for any queries and resolve them in the best possible way.

Observe and take notes: When the participants are working on the assigned tasks, observe their behaviors and actions. Try to understand the body language as it can help you to note their emotions and identify their likes and dislikes. Note that your observation can give you correct input as compared to what they said when you ask them questions.

Interview and take notes: After or during the task, you can ask users for their feedback about a feature or user flow. It is better to keep this Q/A session after the task is done as during the task it can cause interruption. Ask questions that help users to get their input freely and do not try to bias their opinion by mentioning your opinions.

Wrap-up the session: After completing all the planned tasks, the moderator can ask the participants about their overall experience with the product. Listen and note their feedback carefully. Don’t forget to pay your thanks to the participants before leaving the room.

Step 5: Document and Analyze Results

When you are done with the test exercise, the next step is to organize the collected data, analyze your findings, identify the required improvements, and prioritize them based on their need and importance.

Organize data: At this point, you will have the collected data in different formats like notes, recordings, action points, etc. There is a need to organize this data and go through it. Compile your notes and observations, listen and watch the recordings, and capture data from them.

Build usability testing report: Collect data and your findings in a report that best describes the purpose of the test, how it was conducted, what are your findings, and what you achieved from this exercise. Prepare this report to be presented in front of relevant stakeholders and conclude with the decisions.

Prioritize improvements: Usability testing results in a list of improvements to be made to the product. The next step is to make these improvements part of your product backlog and prioritize them with defined levels like Must have, Should have, and Good to have features.

How to Avoid Common Usability Mistakes?

Several mistakes can occur during each step of the usability testing. The below-mentioned list shows some of these mistakes and the ways to avoid them.

Lack of Proper Planning

Proper planning is a pre-requisite for successful usability testing. If you do not have a clear purpose for the testing in your mind, this exercise will not give you the desired outcomes. Selecting incorrect tasks that you ask participants to perform and not finding the right type of audience are very common mistakes that can lead a usability test to failure.

Ways to avoid this: Spend time on the planning step. Understand the goal that you want to achieve from this exercise. Prioritize tasks that will help you to read the behavior of your participants. Recruit your participants and find either the real users or the participants that are much closer to the real users. Only then the collected feedback will help you identify the real pain points.

Interrupting Audience During Test

In a moderated usability test, the role of the moderator is very important. Sometimes the moderator starts directing the users on how should they proceed with their tasks. This behavior can lead to a biased opinion.

Ways to avoid this: The moderator should be there to help the participants; however, he is not supposed to tell the users what and how they should perform. The moderator needs to know how to extract the required information from participants either by observing them, listening to them, or recording their actions.

Reporting Results Incorrectly

The results of the usability testing are something based on which design decisions are made. If the results are not conveyed to the correct audience in a correct manner, it simply means that the test has failed.

Ways to avoid this: Collect the results in a format that is understandable to the designers and product managers. Don’t make lengthy reports as no one reads them, instead it is better to present your findings after the test to stakeholders, discuss them, and identify the required improvements to be made in the product. 

Doing Usability Testing Only Once

Doing usability testing once in a product development lifecycle can result in open questions. After the first iteration, sometimes the product development team assumes that now they can make design decisions based on their opinions. This can be dangerous for the usability of the product.

Ways to avoid this: Usability testing is an iterative approach that may need to repeat depending on the requirements. Doing usability testing at the early design stage is good as it allows you to involve users early in the process and get their feedback. And based on this test, the team designs the new features or makes improvements to existing designs. It is important to test these improvements in the next iteration of the usability testing exercise.


Usability testing cannot be skipped in the product development lifecycle as it is essential to build the product with confidence that this is what the user wants to use. Meeting users’ expectations will become easier if you conduct successful usability testing and make identified improvements to your product. 

Originally posted on Mockplus.

Learn UX Design

To learn more on how to design better experiences, consider the Interaction Design Foundation’s (IDF) online courses on User Research – Methods and Best Practices.

Apart from courses, webinars, and bootcamps, the IDF is also home to the biggest and most authoritative library of open-source UX Design Resources. Check out the free UX Literature here.

In addition, the UX Academy offers world-class 1-on-1 online training in UX design, access to a vibrant community, and help to get a product design job.

Thanks for reading.

Subscribe for more related articles at UX World.

If you have any questions, contact me here: Facebook | YouTube | Twitter Instagram | Linkedin

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *