Usability Testing 101

Improving your user experience starts with user research. Understand user motivations and reactions to using your product through usability testing.

I covered a few reasons as to why you should consider user experience research for your website. User testing can play an important role in understanding and improving the way users interact with your product. Updating your website? Creating a new website? User testing allows you to get feedback from real users performing real tasks.

Moderated testing is helpful for qualitative feedback that you wouldn’t normally be able to get during unmoderated testing. Quantitative tells you what, qualitative tells you why.

If you record users, you can refer back to them for future analysis. While recording, you may notice different reactions, pauses or comments that lead to additional insights about their experience.

If you’re unable to do in-person moderated testing, remote user testing tools are great budget friendly options.

Performing regular user testing allows you to confirm you’re providing what users are looking for, in the places they expect to find them, and identifies room for improvements.

Who should you recruit? Personas are a good starting point to recruit study participants who fit certain characteristics, in order to understand your users and the goals they want to accomplish.

Getting Started 

If you are planning on performing usability tests on a small number of participants, here are some steps to get you started:

Write a test plan – one of the most important things in performing user testing is writing a test plan. The main purpose of the test plan is to determine what, how and who to test. Not having a test plan means that you open your study to challenges to its validity (check out Nielsen Norman’s Checklist for Usability Tests).

We typically include the following:

  1. Project background
  2. User profiles – use personas or customer segments
  3. Problem statement and goal – What do you hope to accomplish with user testing? Coming up with a problem statement can be helpful to establish issues and frame the outcome as a goal. Include product and test goals.
  4. Methodology – type of test and the environment
  5. Test environment and tools – where/how will you conduct the study?
  6. Scenarios – based on creating scenarios connected to user goals, and what you want to learn from the study.
  7. Recruit and schedule participants – we like to write an email to our study participants to screen and pre-qualify them, provide them information on what to expect, and if they need to meet technical prerequisites.
  8. Checklists – confirm the testing team’s roles by creating checklists and scripts
  9. Permission / consent form – to ensure that you have consent from study participants or a non-disclosure agreement if you are testing a new app, for example
  10. Tasks and scenarios – write tasks that you want the user to accomplish or what they think about the design of a web page, such as:
    • “How would you describe the look and feel of the home page?”
    • “Find pricing information about our services”
    • “What is your goal?”
    • “How did you feel about that process?”
  11. Develop post-task questions – follow up questions you have for test participants about their experience with the product being tested (e.g. How did they feel as they interacted with the product? Do they have any additional comments?)
  12. Measurement – were participants able to complete the tasks? how long did it take the user to accomplish a task? how will the team collect data, and how will it be analyzed?

User Testing Methods and Tools

Optimal Workshop is an effective user research tool – they offer digital card sorting, tree testing, first-click testing, and a beta tool.

Evaluate the information architecture of a site by performing a card sort where participants sort topics into categories that make sense to them. There are four types to choose from:

  • Open – Participants sort cards into categories that make sense to them and label each category themselves
  • Closed- Participants sort cards into categories you give them
  • Hybrid – Participants sort cards into categories you give them and can create their own categories as well
  • Reverse Card Sort – test wireframes and prototypes by writing tasks for users to find out if people can find what they came for on your website or intranet

By recording interviews, you can mark the time certain events happen with contextual notes. We like using lookback, a live moderated testing platform that allows test participants to share their screen, video, and audio. Options include self testing and unmoderated testing activated through a personalized link. lookback walks participants through setup, testing and uploading.

Ah-ha moments and interviews reveal valuable user insights, but without a recording, it may be hard to go back and review an overlooked interaction or touchpoint.

Want to find out more about usability testing? Let’s talk!

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