As user interfaces can be found in virtually every industry that exists today, you’ve most likely heard of usability testing on countless occasions without entirely knowing what it means. And that’s okay! Like software design itself, usability testing is still a relatively young field in the grand scheme of things and can be changeable in the face of rapidly developing technology and digital platforms. But there are some elements and methods within usability testing that are evergreen, which we’ll be discussing below.
The process of usability testing
Usability testing also goes by the name of UX testing (or user experience testing), and generally consists of a six-step process.
These six steps are:
- Build → developing a prototype product to test
- Plan → identifying your test’s goals, set test report formats, and assigning tasks to testers
- Recruit → recruit testers (adhering to user/consumer profile and demographics)
- Test → execute selected usability tests on the prototype, and record findings
- Data Analysis → analyse data from tests and finetune actionable recommendations
- Reporting → share findings, diagrams, and recommendations with all concerned stakeholders.
Concerned stakeholders generally refer to your design team (your UI designers and software developers), as well as your shareholders and clients, your organisation’s management team, and any other parties who may be invested in the project. Reporting your data to a variety of authorities will enable you and your team to approach the monolithic task of implementing changes with a whole-systems perspective, thereby ensuring that your software only experiences positive developmental changes from every angle.
The methods of usability testing
There are two major forms of usability testing, these being laboratory and remote testing. Laboratory testing, which is also often called ‘face-to-face’ testing, is generally conducted controlled conditions with an observer or observers overseeing the tests. The observer’s job is to simply make any observations that are pertinent to achieving the test’s outlined goals. For instance, if you’re developing a role-playing game with thriller elements and you wanted to ensure that a specific sequence generated tension, your test’s observer would be looking for signs of tension and uneasiness in your users’ expressions.
The benefits of laboratory testing naturally include a front-seat view of emotional reactions, and so laboratory testing can be quite valuable during the development of lifestyle-based software and apps. Another valuable pro to laboratory testing is that users are free to ask questions if they do get stuck, which makes obvious flaws incredibly easy to address.
On the other hand, remote testing, or unmoderated testing, also has its undeniable pros, as it generally tends to provide a far larger and purer pool of data. As remote testing can be conducted anywhere and at any time, it provides users with a certain level of flexibility that ensures that their experiences with your software are totally free of environmental or situational biases. As users who participate in remote tests are generally given minimal instructions from their testers, remote testing has been praised as a particularly effective test method when developers want to gauge the intuitiveness of their platform design, and critically assess their own design thinking process.
When to execute usability tests
Generally, usability testing should occur at every major developmental phase of your project’s growth, more specifically at phases where you’d like to test the efficacy of a particular variable. You should also aim to be testing factors that are critical to the operation of your software, or may form the crux of the user’s experience. For instance, apps like Facebook and Instagram need to scroll smoothly and pages always need to load at a rapid rate to keep up with user scrolling. For this reason, these apps will keep a certain level of data downloaded at all times to ensure there’s always content. This feature was most likely added after usability testing drew developer attention to a demand for consistent content.
As usability testing is growing relevant to a great majority of industries, it’s only a matter of time until it pops up in some capacity in your field. If you do find yourself facing usability testing at some point in the near future, be sure to consult this article once more, or follow this usability test checklist.