An Introduction to Usability Testing
UT not only saves money and time but also brings a design-for-the-users mentality and experience-centric approach to the project team.
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What Is Usability Testing?
Usability involves the ease of use and learnability of any human-made object such as a tool or device. Usability testing (UT) is a technique used in user-centered design methodology to evaluate a product by testing it with real users.
UT helps us know:
- Problems in an earlier stage and fix them quickly.
- Know if users are able to complete the tasks.
- Know the time taken to complete tasks.
- How users feel.
- Ways to improve the experience.
- Whether the usability objectives are met.
What Should You Test?
People think we should test only the final product, but actually, we can conduct UT on:
- High-fidelity or low-fidelity prototypes.
- Fully or partially functional products.
When Should You Test?
If a defect is found earlier, it is cheaper to fix. Similarly, it is ideal to start UT in the design phase and run it frequently until the end.
Exploratory or Formative Study
This type of study is conducted quite early in the development cycle when a product is still in preliminary stages of being defined.
Assessment or Summative Test
This type of test is conducted either early or midway in the development cycle — usually after the high-level design is finalized.
Validation or Verification Test
This type of test is conducted late in the development cycle to measure usability of a product against the usability goals that were established earlier.
In early stages, this type of test can be used to compare different interface styles via an exploratory test to check which is best for the users. Towards the middle of the lifecycle, it can be used to measure the effectiveness of design elements, such as whether pictorial icons or textual buttons are ideal for users. Toward the end of the lifecycle, a comparison test can be used to understand how our product works against a rival product.
This type of test is full-fledged test plan that includes a formative, summative, and verification test.
Where to Test?
Based on the test location, UT is classified as
- Moderated: In a lab setup where you and your user are in same physical location.
- Remote: You are in one geographic location and your user is in another. This is done in a virtual environment with the help of screen-sharing tools.
- Automated: Over the Internet with hundreds or thousands of participants with automated test scripts.
- Testing in-home or on-site: Participants are in their environment where they normally use the product.
Who Is Required for the Test?
To start with, it can be done as an internal process where designers and developers sit together and explore the product from user’s point of view. A qualified approach is to hire real users and give them actual tasks. A facilitator can conduct the test and an observer can note down user reactions. The final report will tell us whether the task was successful or not, whether it was easy or difficult, whether the experience was interesting or boring, engaging or annoying, etc., capturing qualitative as well as quantitative data.
How to Test
UT is done to validate if the product matches user’s mental model and to understand the holistic experience that the users take away. In a structured UT, the steps followed are:
- Designing tasks.
- Identifying participants.
- Facilitating tests.
- Analyzing results.
Is UT Complicated?
People assume UT is expensive, complicated, and scientific, so they don’t schedule UT in their tightly packed Sprints. The fact is, UT is not complex. The most successful teams learn to conduct their own informal UT whenever they can. They get a design idea, rapidly sketch it, create a prototype, and test it swiftly with user representatives. With practice, it’s easy to get a hold on this, just like any other skill.
How to Start UT on Your Own
If you have never conducted UT in your project, you can plan for an internal test right away with your UX designer’s help. It involves having an actual end user (or user representatives) in front of your product and watching their actions and feelings. The goal is to observe how well the users can accomplish their desired tasks and to find if there are pain points.
Should Software Tools Be Used?
It is not mandatory to use a tool for conducting UT. Findings of a UT with or without a tool will stay the same. One advantage of using tools is their auto-generated test reports, which save a lot of time for us to think about fixing the usability issues, rather than spending all the time in juggling with all the statistics, charts, graphs, and reports.
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