Conquer Usability Testing with This Complete Beginner's Guide

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Alexander Georges
Author's profile picture
Lydia Chamberlain
June 5, 2019

Have you ever experienced something like this?

You go to a website with a specific task in mind. But when you’re on the home page, you can’t find what you’re looking for.

You look through the menu, but you can’t find the thing you’re looking for.

You look for a search bar, but there isn’t one to be found.

You explore the website for 30 minutes, hoping to find what you need.

Finally, you give up and try to call, even though you hate talking on the phone.

Sound familiar?

What you’ve just experienced is bad UX design, or bad user experience design. 10 times out of 10, I guarantee you that the owners of this website didn’t do any usability testing.

In this post, we will explain what usability testing is, why you should be doing it, and what the process is like to conduct one.

Let me note that this post is more for those who are just starting to learn, so we’ll explore how you can get started as a beginner.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is the practice of testing a product with your target audience with the purpose of gaining insight into how your users interact with your product.

There is no one way to usability test. The reason for this is because the way you test might be different depending on what stage you’re at with your product.

However, there are some guidelines on how you should usability test. We’ll cover this soon.

Why Should You be Usability Testing?

Companies, whether big or small, can benefit from usability testing.

Mozilla was able to decrease support calls from their users on their support website by 70% through iterative usability testing.

When I worked at a travel startup, usability testing helped us learn that the way we worded some questions on our website was unclear to our users.

Our insights became the corner stone to our website because we had proof, not only for our investors but also for ourselves that what we were doing was really helping travelers.

Usability testing takes the guessing out of your product.

So no matter what your company is about, you will set yourself up for success if you are able to get valuable insights from your users.

How do I usability Test?

There are three main parts of a usability test:

  1. Planning the usability test
  2. Performing the usability test
  3. Analyzing the results

Let’s break these down.

Planning the Usability Test

Setting Your Goals

Before actually performing the usability test, you need to create goals of what exactly you’re trying to measure in your test.

These goals can be qualitative, quantitative, or both.

Here an example of a quantitative goal: “We want the average time for signing up on our website to take less than 2 minutes for 90% of our customers.”

You will probably benefit the most from having a mix of both kinds of goals.

Here’s an example of a qualitative goal:

“We want our users to tell us that they had a positive experience shopping for clothes.”

Here an example of a quantitative goal:

“We want the average time for signing up on our website to take less than 2 minutes for 90% of our customers.”

You will probably benefit the most from having a mix of both kinds of goals.

Creating Tasks

If your usability test involves having users do specific tasks in front of you, you’ll need a set of tasks for the user to perform.

Here is a sample task you can ask:

“From the home page, how would you order a pair of shoes?”

Try to keep your usability test to 30 minutes or less per user. Remember, people get fatigued after a while because…well…their human. Even 30 minutes might be stretching it.

Post-Task Follow-Up Questions

Once your users are finished with the tasks you set out for them, you might want to ask some follow-up questions.

These follow-up questions can help you get both qualitative and quantitative feedback.

For some qualitative questions, you can ask things like:

“How do you feel about the signup process? What was the biggest surprise? What did you like? What didn’t you like?”

For some quantitative questions, you can ask:

“From a scale of one to ten, with one being the most difficult and ten being the easiest, how did you feel about the signup process?”

Now, a warning here–AVOID asking leading questions.

A leading question suggests for a user to feel more strongly in one direction or another.

For example, do NOT ask:

“How much do you like our product?”

In this question, you’re leading them towards the directions of “liking” your product. You need a more neutral question like: “How do you feel about our product?”

Looking for Testers

Remember, you’re looking for testers that represent your target audience the best.

Normally, 6-8 testers are good enough before you start to get repeat answers.

You can find testers through emails, showing up at Starbucks and offering a free Starbucks card in return for testing, etc. There is no right answer here on the method for finding them.

If you’re scheduling your testers, make sure you don’t schedule them all back-to-back. Have a five to ten-minute break in between just in case.

Also, choose a location that at least somewhat closely matches where you believe your users would be using your product.

For example, if you have a food & drink app, a Starbucks or restaurant might be appropriate.

Performing the Usability Testing

Before the Test

On the day of the test, make sure you have your questions, your notepad (to take notes), and everything else ready ahead of time. You want to be professional because you’re representing your company or brand.

Try to show up 30 minutes before the testers to ensure that everything is in place.

Greeting Your Testers

When your testers appear during their allotted time slots, help them feel comfortable.

For example, let them know how much you appreciate them taking the time out of their day to help you better your product.

Tell them that you’re really testing your product, not them in particular. Let them know there’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s okay if they cannot figure out a task.

Testing Your Users

When your users are going through the tasks, ask that they think aloud. This prevents you from having to guess how they feel or what they’re thinking at any point during the usability test.

For example, say:

“While doing these tasks, please say out loud what you’re thinking. As an example, if you’re currently searching for a search bar on a page, try saying that out loud so that I know that’s what you’re doing.”

If the tester gets stuck at some point, try not to give any hints. If you give hints, you’ll likely be tainting the test results.

The point of these tests is the get honest results, even if they’re not the ones you want.

Ending The Tests

At the end of the test, don’t only thank your users for coming.

You need to provide some sort of gift to really show your gratitude. This can be something like a gift card for Amazon.

Avoid just giving cash. This will appear unprofessional.

Analyzing the Results

Summarize the Main Points

Now that your usability test is over, it’s time to organize your findings.

Take all of your notes and group the ones that are similar. There are bound to be repeat answers from different users, such as three testers saying it was hard to find a button.

Once you’ve done this, give each group a coherent summary (while also noting how many testers gave that particular feedback).

Personally, I like to order the summaries by what was most said to what was least said.

Now, what are your conclusions? Did you meet your target goals? What do you think requires the most changes?

Remember, you need to be looking at this from your users’ perspective.

Presenting Your Findings

When you present your findings to your team, try to be as neutral as possible. This is NOT supposed to be about your personal opinion.

Don’t say that your testers kinda, sorta liked your product when you know they were frustrated with it just because you don’t want your team to feel bad for all their hard work making this product.

No, this is real user feedback. It’s real evidence that your product is working or not working as intended, and your team needs to understand that.

At the very least, be proud that you’ve taken the time to talk to real users.

You’ve taken a step towards making your product more user-friendly, and that’s the right thing to do by your users.

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