What is Usability Testing? Interesting Facts and 10 principles to know

What is Usability Testing? Interesting Facts and 10 principles to know

What is usability testing? For many who are reading this, these word rings in their ears every day. Many people asked me this question before. And many people still asks it everyday.

In the same way, many believe that Usability is the same as User Experience and use both terms interchangeably (anecdotally, many years ago, when I started in this area, I did the same thing, only that confusing Usability testing with User Experience Design).

What is usability?

Well, actually, Usability is one of the many disciplines or areas that forms what we know as User Experience.

What is usability?
Photo by David Travis

To understand usability better, let’s refer to Wikipedia’s definition:

Usability is the ease of use and learnability of a human-made object, such as a tool or device.

In software engineering, usability refers to the degree to which a software application can be used by specified consumers to achieve specific objectives with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a given context of use.

Further elaborating:

Usability includes methods of measuring usability, such as needs analysis and the study of principles behind an object’s perceived efficiency or elegance.

In the fields of human-computer interaction and computer science, usability examines the elegance and clarity of the interaction between a user and a computer program or website (web usability).

Usability takes into account user satisfaction and utility as quality components and aims to improve the user experience through iterative design.

In summary, to avoid lengthy definitions, we can say that:

Usability is the measure of how effectively a user can utilize a tool or object, whether real or virtual.

What about usability testing?

Usability testing is the main part of usability. Without objective user testing, everything becomes subjective.

Usability testing is a crucial component of usability. Without objective user testing, everything becomes subjective, and subjectivity is what a UX designer should avoid at all costs.

When designing an experience, you start with certain logical steps related to the UX design process. While methodologies may vary, the general process typically includes:

  • Brainstorming or ideation
  • Wireframes
  • Interactive mockups
  • Prototypes

Although it’s possible and advisable to conduct tests at each of these stages, usability testing becomes essential when you reach the prototype phase.

Usability testing can be performed in various ways, but there is one type of test that is indispensable:

Usability testing with real users.

Automated testing can provide valuable insights, but nothing can replace the insights gained from user testing in UX Design (UXD). This type of testing ensures that the design meets real user needs and expectations, leading to a more effective and user-friendly product.

Types of user testing

There are different types of usability testing, which can be categorized into three main groups that can be combined:

  1. Moderated / Unmoderated
  2. Remote / Local
  3. Explorative / Comparative

Moderated Testing

This type of testing is facilitated by a UX researcher. It can be conducted remotely (e.g., via phone or video call) or locally (e.g., in a lab or the user’s environment). The researcher guides the participants through tasks and collects qualitative data on their interactions and feedback.

Unmoderated Testing

As the name suggests, unmoderated testing does not involve direct oversight by a UX researcher. Instead, automated tools are used to study user behavior and gather insights into usability and other UX issues. A great example of a tool for this purpose is Hotjar, which can track user interactions and generate heatmaps.

For instance, we conducted unmoderated usability testing using heatmaps for one of our clients. We wanted to see what elements users were most interested in following a redesign. The heatmaps provided clear insights into user behavior and helped us identify areas for further improvement.

By utilizing both moderated and unmoderated testing, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of user interactions and enhance the overall usability of your product.

usability testing using heatmaps

Remote Testing

Remote testing is a methodology where the researcher and the user are not in the same location. This can be conducted in two main ways:

  • Automated and Unmoderated: Tools like Hotjar can be used to gather data on user interactions without the need for a researcher to be present.
  • Moderated: The researcher guides the user through tasks via phone, video calls, or online interviews using platforms like Skype.

Local Testing

Local testing occurs when both the user and the researcher are in the same location. This can take place in various settings:

  • Lab: Controlled environment for in-depth observation.
  • User’s Home: Testing in the user’s natural environment.
  • Public Places: Common in guerrilla testing, where quick feedback is gathered from a diverse set of users.

Explorative Testing

Explorative testing is less common in usability tests due to its open-ended nature. However, it is valuable in certain scenarios, particularly in Information Architecture through methods like card sorting. This approach allows users to organize content in a way that makes sense to them, providing insights into their thought processes and preferences.

Comparative Testing

Comparative testing involves presenting users with two or more options to compare and choose from. This method is distinct from A/B testing in that it seeks qualitative feedback on user preferences rather than purely quantitative performance data.

While comparative testing may sound similar to A/B testing, they serve different purposes. Comparative testing focuses on understanding user preferences and perceptions, whereas A/B testing evaluates which version performs better based on specific metrics.

By incorporating these various testing methodologies, you can obtain a well-rounded understanding of user interactions and improve the usability of your product.

usability testing: Locar user testing

Usability Testing Methods

The user testing types mentioned above encompass various methods, some of which have been discussed earlier. However, these types can be applied to different UX research methodologies, not exclusively usability.

When seeking insights into usability, we may use the following methods, tools, and techniques:

  1. System Usability Scale (SUS)
  2. Lab Testing
  3. Guerrilla Testing
  4. Hallway Testing
  5. Heatmap Analysis
  6. Eye Tracking Analysis
  7. User Observation (remote or local)
  8. Interviews (remote or local)
  9. Software Usage Analysis

Interesting Facts About Usability

For those who want to understand the importance of usability, look no further than Apple. They revolutionized how we perceive technology through the usability of their products. Apple’s success is deeply rooted in the application of German designer Dieter Rams10 principles for good design:

1. Good Design is Innovative

Innovation in design is always linked to technological development, which offers new opportunities. Innovative design and technology develop together and should not be pursued independently.

2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful

A product is meant to be used, fulfilling functional, psychological, and aesthetic needs. Good design emphasizes usefulness and eliminates anything that detracts from it.

3. Good Design is Aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness. Products we use daily affect our well-being, so well-executed products should be beautiful.

4. Good Design Makes a Product Understandable

Good design clarifies a product’s structure and can make it self-explanatory, facilitating user understanding.

5. Good Design is Honest

It does not make a product appear more innovative or valuable than it truly is. Honest design does not manipulate consumers with false promises.

6. Good Design is Unobtrusive

Products serve a purpose and should be neutral and restrained, allowing room for the user’s self-expression.

7. Good Design is Long-lasting

It avoids trends and remains timeless, enduring many years even in a throw-away society.

8. Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail

Nothing is arbitrary. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect for the consumer.

9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly

Design contributes to environmental preservation by conserving resources and minimizing pollution throughout a product’s life cycle.

10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible

Less but better. Good design focuses on essential aspects and avoids unnecessary elements, returning to purity and simplicity.

By adhering to these principles, designers can create products that are not only functional and beautiful but also user-friendly and sustainable.

Usability Testing: More User data

And even more data!

Other data extracted from the Wikipedia page cited above:

  1. Usability shows reductions in the product development cycle of 33-50% (Bosert 1991).
  2. 63% of all software development projects exceed their budget, being the four most important causes related to usability. (Lederer and Prassad 1992).
  3. The percentage of code that is dedicated to the development of UI has been increasing over the years. Nowadays, it reaches an average 47-60% of the whole application. (MacIntyre et al. 1990).
  4. The Ricoh company discovered that 95% of the users surveyed never used the three key features designed to make the product more attractive. Either because they were unaware of its existence, not knowing how to use them or not understanding them. (Nussbaum and Neff 1991).
  5. 80% of maintenance tasks are due to user requirements not foreseen. The rest remaining due to failures and errors. (Martin and McClure 1993; Pressman 1992)

In conclusion: get to work and spend more time studying this fascinating discipline. Who knows? Maybe the next Dieter Rams or Steve Jobs is reading these lines!

More Usability Testing Resources and Bibliography

A practical guide to usability testing – J. Dumas, J. Redish (PDF)

Usability Testing of Mobile Applications: A Comparison between Laboratory and Field Testing – T. Kallio, A. Kaikkonen (PDF)

Usability testing of an academic library web site: a case study – B. Battleson, A. Booth, J. Weintrop (PDF)

Challenges, Methodologies, and Issues in the Usability Testing of Mobile Applications – D. Zhang, B. Adipat

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