Usability Testing

What is Usability Testing?

Narrowly defined,  usability testing involves real users attempting to complete tasks using your product while being observed by an unbiased researcher

Developer gets angry that the user does not click on the correct link
You can be frustrated as long as you do not influence the user’s reaction.
  • Specific tasks are developed by the researcher (e.g., buy a ticket to a show) using an interface/product
  • Success and failure rates, along with pain points are noted
  • User satisfaction is measured at the end of the session

Usability testing is a crucial component of the design process.


After a lot of hours and days of ideation, wireframing and development, after weeks of refining the copy, and checking with compliance, we are ready to release the long-awaited product. Only to find out that our users are not happy. But why not? How can they not see the brilliance? And the blood, sweat, and tears our team put up with? Usability testing is a crucial component of the product development cycle.


You MUST test your product (widely defined) with your intended users at ALL stages of the development and frequently. The actionable feedback you get from the users will either validate your thinking or help you adjust your design. Usability testing normally comes close to the end of the product development process, and so it is really just a component of the iterative user research.

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You need to understand what you (and your team) want to learn from your usability testing session. Depending on your role in the project, this may mean talking to the stakeholders, managers, or if it is your own creation, to yourself:-) You need to define (a) the scope and (b) the goals of the usability testing – as specifically as possible. In my experience, usability testing is often taken to mean any and all user research by many of the stakeholders.


Make sure your tasks are aligned with the scope and goals determined by the team. The biggest challenge is to make sure you have a working prototype by the time your users are ready. The prototype does not need to be pixel-perfect – people are often more honest about their feedback when they realize that design is still in progress. So, wireframes sometimes work better than polished products.


The validity of a test means that you are measuring what you claim you are measuring. If you want to see how teenagers use an app, then you need to recruit a teenager – in other words, your sample should represent the target population.  No matter how eager your uncle is to help you.

Recruiting the right participants can be the most challenging part of the usability test. You can use guerilla techniques and ask random people in a mall (for some incentive and because you are so nice and persuasive), or you can use a professional recruiting company. This pretty much budget dependent, however, the quality of the participants is more important than how many you get.



Steve Krug’s template for a test script is a good starting point. Even though the tone of the test script is conversational, you should not read it out loud, or stick to it verbatim. Especially the beginning is more of a conversation where you learn about your participant, maybe even reciprocate some personal information to put them at ease. You are not a robot, and neither are the people helping you figure out the bugs in the design. The most important thing is to get VALID results – so put your user at ease with the understanding that you are not testing the user, but the design. So, make room for the human element in your test script.

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