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Last updated on 12/17/19

Prepare for a usability test

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Full scale usability testing will take a bit more preparation than guerrilla testing, but it's still straight forward and easy to do – just make sure you actually DO IT!

Usability testing is an evaluative process to make sure that your product is easy for users, and that it is something they will actually use. What may seem intuitive for designers and developers may not be so straight forward for users. Therefore, it is essential to test your product early, and test it often.

Usability testing – the big picture

Let's break down usability testing step by step. You'll recognize a lot of the steps and ideas we covered in the course Conduct Design Research & Ethnography which are adapted for usability testing .

  • Figure out what you are testing (wireframes, prototype, product, etc.)

  • Determine your target audience or user base.

  • Recruit users/participants and determine if you will be giving them an incentive.

  • Prepare your task and script.

  • Set up the space for the test.

  • Run a practice test.

  • Run the test on participant(s).

  • Analyze the data.

  • Present your findings with your team.

Considerations for usability testing

Like with all design and user research, recruiting participants works in the same way. (See course: Conduct Design & User Research). It is essential to test on users you are part of your user base. You're looking to find representative users, and assign them representative tasks – in other words, you're looking for the kind of users who would actually use your product (website, app, software, etc.) and give them tasks that actually make sense. Another way to think about participants is that they are a representative from the personas you created. You of course can test on other people, but priority needs to be given to people who may/will actually use your product!

You will need to determine if participants will come to you (if so, is there is any incentive?) or if you will go to them. You don't need to have a lot of space or equipment to conduct usability tests, but it's nice to have a quiet room if possible so that you can record audio and/or video documentation.

For each usability test you should plan on it taking 30 minutes to an hour depending on what you're testing. One of the benefits of usability testing is you can observe how long certain tasks take for users to complete. (Spoiler alert: more often than not it takes longer than you'd expect.). Also, it's a good idea to take advantage of having a user in front of you, so you want to learn as much as you can. You can also ask them to complete other tasks such as card sorting, which we'll look at in part 2 of this course.

For each usability test you want to create a task scenario in order to give a bit of context to the participant before they get started. Typically task scenarios can be written in 1-3 sentences. You want to be as clear and direct as possible in order to establish an actionable task they can complete. [HINT: you should test out any of the tasks you prepare for testers before you give it to them; I found a few roadblocks in preparing the test for the course video, so I was glad I didn't waste the time of my participant!]  

One approach is print out a short scenario to give to the participant. After you present the usability test with your script (next chapter!), have them read it out loud before they get started. They can then keep it next to them while they work through the test in case they need to refer back to it. For additional tests, give them a new sheet of paper with the task scenario clearly articulated. You may want print a copy for yourself as well so you can take notes related to each task.

This amusing look at usability testing on fruit 🍏🍊🍍🍌 will give you a nice overview of the testing process and the task-based challenges you will present to participants [4:18 min].

As with user interviews, in an ideal world there would be a second person to take notes and observe. If there's any question about interpretation you have someone to discuss it with. Whenever in doubt, you can always follow up with the participant via email to confirm.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement