How to conduct usability tests? Before we get to the answer to this question, we’ll explain what usability tests are in general, when to apply them and what distinguishes quantitative from qualitative tests. We will also hint at how to prepare for such tests.
How to conduct usability testing? – table of contents:
- What are usability tests?
- When to employ usability testing?
- Quantitative vs. qualitative usability testing
- Preparing for usability testing
- Moderating usability tests
What are usability tests?
Usability testing is deeply rooted in the UX research process. At the testing stage, the team examines to what extent the developed product is applicable. Thanks to this, the researcher learns, for example, whether it is easy for users visiting the site to find a button or a given piece of information. Usability can vary in complexity depending on the designed solution. Nevertheless, the study always boils down to one thing – to investigate how well (or not) the target users can perform the tasks indicated by researchers as well as how eager they are to do so.
How do usability tests look in practice? In a nutshell, researchers ask participants to complete a series of assigned tasks, then observe their work and assess how well and efficiently they complete these tasks. Their ability to perform and their rate of completion informs the researcher of the next steps they should take in the project – whether the project needs further modification, and if so, what changes to make.
A significant aspect of these tests concerns their conditions. They do not require a special laboratory or another facility, but they can take place there provided it’s possible and the prospects for the valuable result look more promising. Still, typically the team decides on conference rooms to conduct the tests or carry out the whole process online.
As a rule, a facilitator with a ready list of predetermined tasks that research participants should perform conducts the usability tests to examine a given product or prototype. If the user is unable to perform something or has a problem with it, for the researcher this is a sign that the product needs additional work, such as deepening research, devising new solutions, or making modifications to the existing one.
Usability testing enables investigating any aspect of a product’s functionality, but this does not mean that you should test everything at once. For clarity of results and better organization of ideas, each test should focus on specific tasks/questions. This will make both the test and its results easier to collect and analyze, indicating an appropriate decision on the next steps in the project.
When to employ usability testing?
Usability tests should take place only after specific issues/questions have been prepared. For example, they may sound as follows:
- Are users supposed to find a given piece of information through several different paths (ways), e.g., through the search engine, main menu, footer, etc.? Does each path work equally effectively?
- By design, are users expected to purchase in less than 4 steps (clicks) from product selection to payment?
- Since submitting documents is the most important action on the site, the” submit” button must be the most obvious element on the site.
Before starting usability testing, you should have a functional version of the product or at least a prototype. For this reason, this test will not work well in the discovery phase. However, it will find its application at all later stages. Often, usability testing is even conducted at all stages related to product design, whenever there is an opportunity to interact with the product. This helps to improve and optimize the design on an ongoing basis and to prevent inventive errors.
Quantitative vs. qualitative usability testing
The difference between quantitative and qualitative tests lies in the questions to which the researcher seeks answers. Quantitative usability tests are, of course, linked to numerical data, and their analysis is primarily statistical and can be completely objective. The participants function as a representative sample, so the results apply to the entire population. Quantitative usability tests enable concluding, for example, that 45% of users have a problem with a certain function.
Qualitative data is not numerical but comes in a narrative or descriptive form. This analysis involves extracting valuable information from the data in a way that minimizes bias as much as possible. Such data could be, for example, narrative descriptions of a tester attempting to perform a series of tasks – in this case, the analyzed results would consist of a report and the information gathered regarding which tasks were problematic to perform. The qualitative analysis yields results that cannot represent the entire population but provides insights that help deepen and complement quantitative results, among other information. Qualitative data can, for instance, indicate why users might have a particular difficulty.
Preparing for usability testing
Proper preparation and planning, as well as a written plan, will help not only to run the test efficiently but also to explain the purpose of the test to the team understandably. The plan should include several elements such as the scope of testing, the number of testers as well as the purpose of the test – including the expectations and examined functions.
Before the survey, prepare the necessary equipment and plan the location. This can be the researcher’s office, the participant’s natural surroundings or a virtual link that allows you to conduct the test online, such as Zoom, MS Teams, or Google Meet. Remote testing is a good solution if the company cares about saving time or money and when the product is aimed at a niche audience from all over the world.
Some tests take place in lab settings where observers follow the actions of the moderator and participant through a Venetian mirror. The test subjects mostly know they are being observed, but they cannot hear what the team members are saying.
In addition to the participants, you need equipment to conduct the test, which is usually limited to a device with access to the product (prototype) and a few sheets of paper, pads, and pens so that observers can take notes. Optionally, the study can also be supplied with a recording device or screen capture software. This is practical especially when the study does not involve observers who can take notes in real-time.
The next step is to arrange and schedule meetings with the testers. It is necessary to determine how long each test will take, how many such tests to carry out are to be conducted per day, and what the expected time reserve is between test subjects.
Participants in the study can come from, for example, people obtained from the customer base. For qualitative usability tests, the study group should consist of between 5 and 10 participants. We have already written more about recruiting participants for the study in the article UX study participant recruitment.
Moderating usability tests
The moderator is responsible for the entire course of the test, from setting the tone of the test to asking questions, to providing the attendees with all the information necessary to complete the tasks. A good moderator encourages the participant to share their thoughts in real-time – in other words, to think out loud.
When ordering a task, state the goal of the task without going into the instructions for execution. Then observe whether the user succeeds in achieving it by solving the task. It is worth remembering about the language – it must be clear, simple and non-technical so that everything is understandable from the point of view of the participant, does not require additional translation and does not cause confusion. A scenario prepared in advance and tested (e.g., through pilot tests)will prove helpful.
In a situation when the subjects perform a task incorrectly, the facilitator shouldn’t correct or direct to solve it. The facilitator should let him or her work independently so that the outcome of the test is not affected. Although it may be difficult to observe a tester struggling with the task at hand, it is important to allow him or her to work independently to get the best possible data and guidance on what to improve in the project.
The test moderator cannot moderate and put down notes concerning the test at the same time. A good practice is to invite someone to the test as an observer (or several observers) to make notes during the procedure. If this is not possible, you can record the session and writie down notes after the test. For remote testing, many tools, such as Zoom or MS Teams, allow you to record the meeting. Some of them even have a function to generate an automatic transcription.
Usability testing is a crucial element of the UX process. It is the first encounter between the product and the user to fish out errors or shortcomings early in the design early and make modifications before developing the final product. It is worthwhile to carefully prepare for usability testing and plan the course of the study to draw the most valuable results and design guidelines on its basis.
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