Usability testing. And why it works by Jenny Lardh

Senior UX & UR consultant Jenny Lardh discusses usability testing and explains why she likes using it.

Usability testing – and why I love it

Usability testing is a type of user research that evaluates the user’s experience when they are
interacting with a digital product or service. This style of testing is a fantastic opportunity to get
your product in front of your users and obtain first-hand feedback. It can be extremely valuable. And
it is something that I like to utilise as much as possible.

The different types of usability testing

There are two main types of usability testing with users: moderated and unmoderated. With
moderated usability testing, the UX Designer will observe the user in live conditions as they test the
product. Unmoderated usability testing is done without the UX Designer, and feedback can be given
in the form of user notes, a voice message, or by setting up a session that automatically records the
user and asks that they speak out loud as they are using the product.
Moderated and unmoderated user testing are amazing tools with pros and cons. What I like about
moderated usability testing is that I can manoeuvre the focus to areas I want to test more
thoroughly. However, this can be costly as it requires the UX Designer’s time, and there is a limit to
how many sessions can be done in a day.
Unmoderated usability testing comes without such volume restrictions. It can be sent to many users
who can do the testing at a time that suits them. However, the data is likely to be less in-depth. Plus,
you won’t have the same flexibility moderated sessions give you.

When to utilise usability testing

Usability testing is an important part of the UX lifecycle and can be utilised anytime. In my
experience, the earlier you can test, the better. You can, for example, even test a concept with users
before you have something visual. Most common, though, is to test a medium to high fidelity design.
A medium fidelity design is a prototype with limited functionality. A high fidelity design closely
matches the final result of a product’s design, and users will be able to see the content, visual styles,
and animated transitions so that it looks as realistic as possible.

Testing a medium to high fidelity prototype gives your users something to interact with, often
triggering them to refer to examples they might not otherwise consider talking about.
I like to test my designs as early as possible as this helps in the long run by decreasing more
considerable changes further down the line. This way, it can save time, allowing me to focus on the
details while helping the product become more intuitive.

Usability testing. An important step in the UX lifecycle

When designing a product or service, our research will enable us to build a foundational
understanding of our users and their needs, but it’s not until we test our design that we know what
we have got right. We might have missed something. Let’s be honest; we will always miss
something! Missing things is part of the process. Identifying what’s missing is part of the discovery.
And improving through evolution is part of the journey. That’s why we iterate.
There have been countless times during user testing when I have put a design in front of a user only
to observe them doing something completely unexpected. This is amazing because they are using
and interpreting how they understand it to work, giving the research team clues as to how they want
it to work. I love it when this happens as it offers me invaluable insight into our users’ mental model
whilst improving my understanding of the users.

Usability testing. A confidence building process

Usability testing helps me quickly identify if my assumptions are correct or if I need to make
changes. When something isn’t quite working, your users will be confused. This is not a bad thing.
Finding what doesn’t work is just as valuable as finding out what does. It gives me a challenge. A
puzzle to solve; ‘What needs to change for this to make sense?’
As useful as it is when users don’t behave as you’d expected, there is perhaps no better feeling than
putting a design in front of users and watching them effortlessly navigate their way as if they have
used it before. That makes me very happy! It’s an instant confirmation of all the iterations and hard
work that the team have put in. The only challenge can be to manage the user’s expectations
because, from their perspective, they like it, and they’d like to use it in a live environment now!
Having a design validated by your users provides evidence to build your iterations. I’m often asked
why we have adopted a particular design over another. Explaining how user feedback has influenced
this builds confidence in your stakeholders that they are bringing the right product and design to
their customers.

Going through a usability testing phase and iterating the design is fun, and I love it!

We hope that you have found this blog useful. If you are interested in UX or have a question for the
Triad UX team, please get in touch.