How to choose Usability Testing Method and protocol

Usability Testing
Usability testing method uncovers the problems in product or design using Participants activity into account and analysis with respect to identified use cases. A Usability Testing session can generate both qualitative and quantitative observation data which can processed further to reach on findings. The generated data from Usability Testing session is mainly dependent about the type of method and protocol chosen. If correct method and protocol is not chosen and executed, it may hamper the accuracy of data gathered and which may lead to inaccurate or biased findings. In this article, I would like to discuss about the type of Usability Testing methods, protocols and a small guide on when to use it. This would help you in understand and decide the method for better execution and accurate findings.

There are different ways to classify the Usability testing methods. When it comes to choose the Usability Testing method, one need to have answers of 3 parameters:
1. Context
2. Way
3. Protocol


1. With respect to Context

 a. In-Person Usability Testing

In-person Usability Testing getting conducted in controlled or semi controlled testing environment. In that testing environment test Participant and Moderator will be present, apart from these actors some more roles can also be physically present like observer, note taker, business stake holders, project management team etc. Special environment setup is used for this kind of testing but not mandatory to have such infrastructure and setup. This can also be executed in any place with product, Moderator and Participant.

b. Remote Usability Testing

Remote usability testing is similar in fashion except one fact that is Participant and Moderator are not present at the same place instead this testing gets conducted by Participant alone and Moderator may or may not present through digital channels. This method is very impactful when the location or travel constraints are there in product lifecycle. Remote Usability Testing tools can be used in this method like Crazyegg, Maze, UserZoom etc.

2. With respect to Execution method

 a. Moderated Usability Testing

This way of Usability Testing gets moderated by a Moderator or Facilitator who is expert in conducting & executing the studies, probing, observation skills etc. Moderator interacts with the Participants for explaining the tasks, probing and clarifications. The main goal of Moderator is to control the study and drive in correct directions. This method is amazingly useful in conducting Usability Testing in early design process and gather qualitative data which can help in making product more efficient by applying the insights as design iterations.

b. Un-moderated Usability Testing

On the contrary, unmoderated Usability Testing are not controlled by Moderators or facilitator. The test Participants are provided the list of tasks and testing materials. This is primarily used when the primary goal of Usability Testing is to measure some parameters and prove some hypothesis quantitatively. This kind of Usability Testing majorly done through online Usability Tools, which captures the Participants activity and provide the quantitative data analysis.


3. With respect to Protocol

Protocols define the way the Usability Testing session gets executed. The key activities are probing and think aloud, these activities are mainly configured or define with respect to the goals of observation. Let’s look the protocols in detail.  

a. Concurrent probing

In this protocol, Moderator interacts with Participants while he/she performs the task and along-with the task goes. This method is good in clarifying granular level of details, whereas while measuring any quantitative parameter this way of execution may lead to erroneous results.

b. Retrospective probing

In this protocol, Moderator only observes the activity of Participant when the perform task and once the task(s) is completed Moderator performs the probing. In this way the Moderator does not interrupt the Participant in their task execution and measurable parameters gets more accurate values, whereas the Moderator might miss some key points to clarify or probe while waiting till the last.

c. Concurrent think aloud

In this protocol, the Moderator directs the Participants to think aloud their activities, decision making etc. while they perform the tasks. This is one of the best ways to capture the key qualitative insights about product from end user. Whereas, sometimes it may also lead into the direction of more discussion rather than actions. The Moderator should be skilled well to get the session execution is correct direction.

d. Retrospective think aloud

In this protocol, the Moderator directs the Participant to narrate his/her approach, decision making, activity etc. post the task execution. By this way the task attempt is well performed without interruption whereas, sometimes this method provides artificial data as compared to natural.


Usability Testing in design process is a structured and scientific method, which has many different ways to execute and solve different problems. Every way of execution solves different needs to product which makes it really important to choose the right method at right context. Conduction Usability Testing is good but conducting it in correct way is really important.  

About the Author

Abhishek Jain
Design Lead UX Researcher
KPIT Technologies



  1. For remote testing try UXtweak - I found it to be great platform with useful research tools.