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Usability Testing Your Product: Methodologies and Best Practices

While designers and product managers have assumptions on how users will engage with interfaces and offerings, the only way to truly know is through direct observation and feedback. Usability testing provides empirical insights by having representative target users complete tasks and give opinions in controlled settings.

This guide will explore proven methodologies for planning and conducting effective usability tests, analyzing results, and translating learnings into interface enhancements that boost conversion rates and customer satisfaction. Let’s dive in!

Types of Usability Tests

Each methodology has strengths for specific learning goals:

Moderated In-Lab

Participants brought onsite use product while observers take notes. Best for detailed task feedback.

Unmoderated Remote

Users complete tasks on their own device while you record their screens and faces. Provides natural context.

Paper Prototype Tests

Inexpensive way to test flows using wireframes or sketches before high-fidelity mocks.

A/B Tests

Show subsets different UI variants to determine which statistically converts better.

First Click Tests

New visitors are tracked to see where they click first intuitively without guidance. Reveals navigation assumptions.

Expert Reviews

UI developers or designers systematically critique interfaces against best practices to identify issues.

Accessibility Audit

Ensure interface complies with web accessibility standards for disabled users through WCAG criteria.

Automated Tools

Software can analyze designs against usability heuristic principles and suggest improvements.

Recruiting Users

Find participants matching target demographics and familiarity:

Screen By Age, Occupation, Location

Target user groups directly aligned to customer segments using your product like “HR Managers in Ohio”.

Filter Experience Level

Recruit an even mix of new users and experienced familiar users to the space.

Compensate Effectively

Provide adequate cash, Amazon credits or sweepstakes entries for participation while avoiding overly influencing opinions.

Cap Sessions at 5 Users

Testing with just 3-5 users typically exposes the vast majority of usability issues.

Require NDA if Needed

For confidential products in development, ensure users sign NDAs to protect unreleased intellectual property.

Set Participant Expectations

Clearly explain upfront their role, the broad goals and what they will be asked do as part of informed consent.

Optimizing Test Environment

Create a conducive testing space removing distractions:

Use Dedicated Observation Room

Allow the research team to watch unobtrusively through one-way glass or video feed from a separate room.

Control Environmental Details

Minimize visual distractions. Provide pens and notepads for written feedback. Ensure webcam is adjusted to capture facial expressions.

Use Recording Software

Capture user’s voice, webcam video, system audio and on-screen interactions via software like UserTesting or Hotjar for detailed playback.

Take Backup Notes

Supplement recordings with written observer notes on patterns, body language and verbal reactions worthy of timestamping.

Offer Familiar Browser

Allow using their personal laptop or the same familiar browsers and devices they typically would. Removes unfamiliarity bias.

Developing Effective Tasks

The tasks you assign determine the feedback uncovered:

Map to Key User Flows

Build tasks around the most important and frequently used customer flows driving revenue like signup, product search or purchase.

Align Questions to KPIs

Tailor tasks to illuminate current usability pressure points impacting business KPIs like cart abandonment rate, account creation drop-off, newsletter sign-up conversion, etc.

Mix Known Pain Points With New Areas

Blend improving existing known trouble spots with evaluating newer interfaces that haven’t been empirically vetted yet.

Vary Easy and Complex Tasks

Include a range of quick simple interactions and multi-step processes requiring deeper cognitive effort.

Avoid Leading Instructions

Phrase tasks open-ended like “Find pricing plans” rather than directing step-by-step to provide flexibility to see where users gravitate instinctively.

Randomize Task Order

Vary whether participants complete high success tasks first to build confidence vs tougher ones while motivation is still high. Both approaches have merits.

Providing Context Without Biasing

Set the scene while still allowing organic behavior:

Explain Brand and Product

Provide just enough context so users understand the product’s purpose without overly influencing perceptions.

Read Tasks Aloud

Slowly read each task and instruction aloud rather than just providing a written list to ensure comprehension.

Answer Clarifying Questions

Address logistical questions but avoid leading hints that pre-solve challenges and void authentic obstacles.

Remain Neutral

Avoid reacting positively or negatively to actions and feedback to prevent swaying participants’ genuine opinions.

Encourage Thinking Aloud

Prompt users to vocalize their thinking process as they interact and make decisions. This provides invaluable ongoing qualitative insights.

Capturing Authentic Feedback

Move beyond just observing actions to gathering subjective opinions:

Ask Open Ended Questions

Keep questions broad and open-ended. “What did you like best about this flow and why?” rather than just “Did you like this process?

Probe on Emotional Reactions

Get insight into both logical and emotional responses. Were they delighted, confused, frustrated at any point and why?

Watch for Body Language

Note frowns, sighs, smiles and other physical reactions indicating feelings users may not directly voice if not asked.

Query on Missing Elements

Ask what additional aspects users expected to see or find. Reveals overlooked opportunities.

Have Users Suggest Solutions

Don’t just identify issues—ask participants directly for their ideas on how they would improve or fix problem areas uncovered to tap user creativity.

Analyzing Results and Data

Breakdown and interpret what worked and what failed:

Correlate Opinions to Behaviors

Compare subjective feedback on enjoyability to actual observed task success to identify mismatches between what users say they prefer and how they actually perform.

Note Consistent Themes

Discern patterns both positive and negative across test subjects. Isolate whether issues were systemic or individual.

Quantify Results

Tally success rates for each task. Identify specific pain points decreasing task completion. Note satisfaction ratings using numeric scales.

Prioritize Opportunities

Rank the severity and frequency of usability issues. Map quantified results to overarching goals around completion rates, time on task, perceived satisfaction.

Compile Recommendations

Collect and synthesize suggestions from participants, moderators, observers and stakeholders into a recommendations report for design and product teams.

Applying Learnings to Optimize Experiences

Close the feedback loop by rapidly implementing improvements uncovered:

Make Obvious Quick Fixes

Implement no-brainer changes like button resizing, label rewording, filling functional gaps. Don’t wait on extensive iteration for easy issues.

Redesign Unintuitive Elements

Find more streamlined designs for interactions where users struggled to determine next steps during the flows. Simplify and clarify.

Improve Onboarding

Look for ways to better educate first-time users upfront if knowledge gaps caused confusion on key platform elements or terminology.

Clarify Navigational Architecture

If users had trouble locating features or assuming how the interface is organized, rework information architecture and navigation labels.

Increase Prominence of Key Actions

Call attention to desired actions through increased size, contrast, placement and cueing. Remove competing distractors.

Continuously Retest and Iterate

View usability as an ongoing optimization practice, not one-off project.

Set Quantifiable Goals

Establish objective benchmarks for task completion rates, satisfaction score targets and overall user flow metrics to measure iterations against.

Test Repeatedly Throughout Development

Conduct usability tests at multiple points during product creation —not just at the very end before launch. Address issues earlier in development life cycle.

Use Multiple Methodologies

Pair moderated in-person sessions for detailed observations with unmoderated remote tools enabling mass volume feedback.

Confirm Fixes Work

Test again after implementing recommendations to ensure changes had the desired impact and no new usability issues were introduced.

Observing actual users interacting with your product surface insights no amount of internal conjecture can reveal. Put these usability testing methodologies into continuous practice to enhance customer experiences, increase user productivity, and boost adoption and retention over time.

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By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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