The Complete Guide to Usability Testing


Guide to Usability Testing

Published on 16 Jan 2024 | Author - Daria Krasovskaya

The Complete Guide to Usability Testing

If you are looking for ways to make your digital product more user-friendly, then conducting usability testing might be the right next step for you. Master the art of usability testing with our step-by-step guide, plus expert tips to hit the ground running.

Enhancing usability and improving the overall user experience should be top of mind when it comes to digital products. Identifying areas for improvement to achieve these can be a daunting task without the right toolkit. Fortunately, conducting a usability test can be the perfect method to pinpoint those areas and get actionable insights. Read more to learn how.

What is Usability?

Put in simple terms usability refers to how easy it is for someone to use a digital product. Usability is essentially how user-friendly a digital interface is regarding aspects like navigation or task completion. A highly usable digital product is a product with which users can interact intuitively and achieve their goals without any frustration, creating in this way a positive product experience.

What is Usability Testing?

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is a UX research methodology used to collect user feedback. In particular, according to NN/group ‘in a usability-testing session, a researcher asks a participant to perform tasks, usually using one or more specific user interfaces. While the participant completes each task, the researcher observes the participant’s behavior and listens for feedback.’

To put it simply, a usability test is about observing how real users behave when they use a digital product or an interface of any sort. The goal of the usability testing is to pinpoint areas where the interface feels sticky or is the cause of user frustration to later address those issues making a more user-friendly and usable product.

Imagine that you have an e-commerce app and you want to assess how easy it is for the users of the app to navigate the different screens and make a purchase. To do so, you can get a few people to perform the task of buying a product and observe them while they are doing so. As you observe them, you can take notes about any difficulties they are facing as well as gather feedback about the general user experience. Once the usability testing session is completed you have some key takeaways when it comes to areas of improvement for your e-commerce app!

What are the Benefits of Usability Testing?

Conducting a usability test can have a host of advantages for your digital product. Here are some key benefits that you will enjoy:

  1. Positive Product Experience

By conducting continuous and rigorous usability testing, you can ensure that the design of your digital product has the user at heart. Usability testing is an excellent way to identify sticky points and usability issues that can cause user frustration. By pinpointing and removing those with design iterations you have a unique chance to enhance the usability of the product, boost the overall user satisfaction, and create a positive product experience for your customers.

  1. Cost Savings

Usability testing is a way to proactively identify and fix usability issues early in the development process. By conducting usability testing early on before the product goes into full production or is launched, researchers and UX professionals have a unique opportunity to identify and resolve sticky points early on, saving the need for expensive redesigns or updates.

  1. Return on Investment

Apart from major cost savings, usability testing can help your budget in a far more direct way! A usability test can be a great way to boost your ROI by focusing on designing a product that meets and exceeds user expectations. As we mentioned earlier, conducting usability testing and actioning on the results can create a positive user experience which translates into higher user engagement and of course higher conversion rates.

  1. Competitive Advantage

Conducting usability testing frequently helps your product build and sustain a competitive advantage by ensuring a positive product experience. With the market flooded with myriad options for consumers to choose from, a highly usable product will stand out so make sure you take advantage of this opportunity. Remember that a positive product experience can determine the purchasing decisions of the users often more than features or price points.

Components of a Usability Test

Usability Testing

Here is a breakdown of the 3 key crucial components of a usability test:

The Moderator:

The moderator (they are present in moderated usability testing, explained later in our article) is the person who facilitates and guides the usability test. Their main responsibilities are to introduce the participants to the test, guide them through the task, and observe their interactions. Depending on the type of usability test, the moderator might also ask some follow-up questions to clarify or deepen some of the insights that they gathered during the test.

The Tasks:

The tasks are the activities that the participant will need to perform on an interface while the moderator is watching. The tasks are presented within a real-world scenario or case to mimic a real-world interaction and reveal actionable insights into the product’s ease of use.

The Participants:

The participants of the tests are the users who have been carefully recruited by the user researcher to take part in the usability study. The participants are the ones who complete the tasks on the interface during the usability test.

Example Scenario:

To get a deeper understanding of the different components of the usability testing let’s bring back the example of the e-commerce app that we used earlier on. Imagine that you are conducting a usability test for the same e-commerce app. In this test, you want to test the payment process. For this reason, you ask some people to go through the payment process on the app while you observe them and you take some notes. In this example, the facilitator is you, the users that you chose are the participants of the study, and completing a payment on the app is the main task of the study.

Types of Usability Testing

There are different types of usability testing that you can tap into depending on the unique goals of your project as well as your budget restraints. Here is a list of the most important types and their specific use:

1. Moderated vs. Unmoderated Usability Testing

Usability tests can be classified as moderated or unmoderated depending on whether a facilitator is present or not.

During moderated usability testing, a moderator presents the tasks to the participants and guides them through the test. Conducting a moderated usability test is best suited for when you are looking to collect detailed feedback and in-depth qualitative insights or for more complex tasks where the guidance might come in handy.

On the other hand, unmoderated usability testing is one where a moderator is not present and the participants are asked to complete the tasks independently. During this type of testing, the participants are following a set of predefined tasks while they are being recorded. Unmoderated usability testing can work wonders for simple, clear tasks where the user researcher is looking to gather quantitative insights. This is a cost-effective and flexible way to conduct usability testing.

2. In-person vs. Remote Usability Testing

Usability testing can be conducted both in a face-to-face and a remote setting.

More specifically, in-person usability testing is conducted with the participants and the facilitator being physically present in a room. This type of usability testing is ideal for a more immersive experience where contextual cues are important.

On the contrary, remote usability testing is conducted online with the participants and the facilitator being in different places often using a usability testing tool such as UXtweak. This testing is an excellent way to reach a diverse group of users efficiently and cost-effectively.

3. Prototype Usability Testing

Last but not least, prototype testing is another distinct type of usability testing where the usability of a product is evaluated at the stage of a high-fidelity prototype rather than the developed version. This is a great way to identify sticky points early on in the development process and make sure that the product you are building places the user at the center.

When to Conduct Usability Testing?

Usability testing can and should be conducted throughout the product life cycle, here are some of the scenarios you can have in mind:

The Prototype Stage Scenario

Conducting usability testing at the prototype stage is an excellent way to ensure that your product meets the expectations of your audience before committing to full-scale development. Catching and addressing any usability issues early in the process will save you a ton of money and resources otherwise spent on costly updates and major redesigns!

The Pre-Launch Scenario

Usability testing should be rigorously conducted at the pre-launch stage. Conducting usability studies just before the product's launch can have a host of benefits as you can ensure a positive user experience with your product from the outset. The pre-launch testing can help you identify and fix any last-minute issues before the product goes to the market.

The Post-Launch Scenario

Another great stage to conduct usability testing is during the post-launch period. Ameliorating the user experience is a continuous, iterative process and at this stage usability test studies can make sure that feedback is collated from real users in a live environment. The feedback gained from these sessions can help you address unforeseen issues and further refine your features based on user feedback.

During a Redesign

When planning an update or a redesign of an existing product, usability testing can prove to be a great tool to ensure that the changes indeed enhance the user experience. Conducting rigorous usability testing at this stage can help you identify misconceptions about the user experience and ensure that the decisions made have the user at heart.

How to Conduct Usability Testing: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Conduct Usability Testing

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a usability test:

  • Define your goals

Start by clearly defining the goals and objectives of your usability testing. Make sure to pinpoint the elements of the experience that you want to assess and improve.

Pro Tip: To define your goals you can take advantage of the SMART framework, according to which the goals of your study should be specific, measurable, achievable relevant, and time-bound.

  • Design your tasks & scenarios

Carefully develop the scenarios and the tasks that the participants will work towards during the test and within the interface. Ensure that the tasks mimic real-life scenarios and real-life situations.

Pro Tip: Give only a manageable number of tasks and always use clear language free from ambiguity when presenting the tasks to your participants.

  • Choose the Right Tool

Take your time to choose the suitable usability testing software that best meets your needs. When choosing your tool take into consideration features like compatibility, analytics, task creation, price point as well as participant recruitment.

How to Choose a User Testing Tool: A Step-by-step Guide 

  • Recruit your participants

Next up is recruiting your participants! Try to attract participants that are in line with the demographics of your intended audience and other relevant factors such as familiarity or experience level with the product.

💡Pro Tip: Take advantage of the participant recruitment tools that some user research platforms offer to streamline your recruitment process.

  • Run a pilot test

Run a test before running your actual study! Make sure that the equipment is working as expected and that the scenarios and tasks created reveal the insights that you were hoping for.

💡Pro Tip:  Tempting as it might be to skip this step, think twice! Running a pilot test will ensure a smoother process and more relevant results.

  • Conduct the Test

Conduct the usability studies and carefully observe the interactions of the users. Look for verbal and non-verbal cues to better understand the user's behavior and take notes.

💡Pro Tip: Use the ‘think aloud’ protocol to remind the participants to verbalize their thoughts for more juicy qualitative insights.

  • Analyse & Iterate

Finally, the last step of the process is to analyze your data by looking out for patterns and trends in user behavior. Pinpoint areas for improvement and then use those insights to iterate your design.

💡Pro Tip: Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative metrics for a more rounded analysis of the user behavior.

Recruiting for Usability Testing

Recruiting the right participants for your usability test is crucial for obtaining meaningful and actionable data. To ensure a diverse pool of participants use a variety of channels to recruit from like social media or any other relevant online communities. Finally, make sure that the participants of the study are a representative sample of your intended users and that they target the demographics of your user personas. To accomplish that and ensure relevant results you can think about incorporating some screening questions.

Here are some key screening questions to get you inspired:

  1. What age group do you belong to?

  2. Where are you based?

  3. What is your occupation?

  4. Have you used [insert product] within the last 6 months?

  5. How often do you use [insert product]?

  6. Via which devices do you access the [insert product]?

Wrapping Up

Usability testing is a method to assess a product through user interaction and it can play a quintessential role in building a product where the user is at the center of any design decision. Usability testing offers UX professionals an unmissable opportunity to pinpoint sticky points within an interface and fix them, ensuring a usable product and a pleasurable experience that exceeds the needs and expectations of the user. If you are looking to get started on your usability testing journey, UXtweak, the only user research platform you will ever need, can help you hit the ground running!

Frequently asked questions about usability testing

1) What is a usability test?

A usability test is a UX methodology used to evaluate how easy a product or system is to used under controlled conditions. The end goal of this test is to pinpoint usability issues and areas for improvement.

2) How does usability testing differ from UAT?

UAT stands for user acceptance testing and it is not to be confused with usability testing.

UAT is the last test before the launch of the product and it validates that the software operates as designed in real-world scenarios.

3) What are the 5 E's of usability?

The 5 E’s of usability is a framework according to which 5 key aspects contribute to a stellar UX: efficiency, effectiveness, engagement, error tolerance, and ease of learning.


Daria Krasovskaya


Daria Krasovskaya is the Head of Content at UX research platform UXtweak. She works closely with our UX researchers, UX/UI designers and content writers to ensure to publish high-quality, informative, and engaging content on topics around user experience and research.


DISCLOSURE: This article is published as part of a paid partnership with the author/company. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author/company.


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