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Last updated on 5/18/20

Conduct a usability test on web or mobile

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Usability testing can be conducted on websites, tablets, and mobile devices, and the framework remains the same. "Thinking aloud" is a key technique in usability testing to get inside the mind of users and understand how they arrive at their decisions, as well as where, and sometimes why they get stuck. It makes it easier for the tester to understand what is and is not working about a product when they see it in action.

One of the biggest challenges for any kind of research is learning when to speak and when to be quiet. As a facilitator your role is to step back and let the participant (user) do most of the talking. Being a facilitator is not the time when you show off your knowledge, but rather the moment to show what a good listener you are.

Let's examine some best practices...

  • Embrace awkward silences. Count to 10 in your head before saying anything. You want your participant to try to figure out things. Maybe a feature really is confusing, or maybe they just didn't notice the

  • Avoid interrupting a task to ask questions to clarify what happened. It is a good idea to clarify, just make sure it's the right moment. "So when you clicked the button shaped like a star, what did you expect to happen?"

  • If the participant gets off topic, don't hesitate to remind them of the task they've been given. "This is all interesting, but let's look at the task again."

  • Before a test starts let the participant know that at certain times during a test you may interrupt them in the interest of time. You will have participants who don't stop talking – the same is true for interviews – so it's good to address it before it becomes an issue, and so you don't feel rude for cutting them off. 

Whenever testing an existing site, be sure to run tests "before" any changes are implemented in order to gain a better understanding of what features are working well for users. You may want to consider keeping these functionalities, but also consider how you can apply or adapt them to other areas of the site.

Usability tests in action

This is a demo test Steve Krug created to help promote is book Rocket Surgery Made Easy. He walks through a usability test just as he would in his professional practice. Make sure you watch it all the way through so you can observe how he handles different situation. [24:26 min]

Self-reflection and critique

Nobody is perfect. We can learn a lot from taking time to reflect after each test with a user. Here are a few thoughts after my usability test with Mansour:

  • I tested the usability test the day before we filmed, and encountered a couple other glitches that I was hoping (for teaching purposes only!) he would hit along the way. Alas, what I expected to go wrong went right, and vice versa. It's a good reason you should plan ahead, but don't go into tests with expectations.

  • The task scenario I presented could have been more succinct – just one sentence is often enough. Every company will have their own approach. For the sake of this example I wanted to give some context.

USABILITY TASK SCENARIO  You want to buy a copy of “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman for your friend who is an aspiring UX designer. You don’t live in the same city, so you’d like a gift wrapped copy to be sent directly to her. You als
The task scenario script got cut from the video for the sake of keeping it succinct, but this is what the participant was given. He was asked to read it aloud to kick off the test.
  • As someone facilitating a test it's really easy to get lost in what the user is doing. There are a few times where you probably noticed me remind him to say what he's doing out loud. I probably could have reminded him more. 

  • It's hard to be quiet! If you were to see the video footage where you can see the two of us, early in the test Mansour thinks the website isn't doing anything, and I rush to point out [with my finger] that indeed there is a status circle in the browser tab. I should have left it longer for him to figure out. However, as you'll see in the last chapter of this course, it's an observation I shared with the developer, and we decide we need to add something that shows the status of the search to the website. 

  • Users can get fixated on things like filling in forms and information. While that is useful to test, I probably could have emphasized at the beginning of the test that he shouldn't spend too much time filling out the forms. 

Taking the time to reflect on each interview or usability test is an excellent way to become more self-aware in terms of how you can continue to build your skills. The more tests you run, the more confident you'll become with usability tests.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement