I love usability testing. I love the sense of insight that well-conducted test sessions reveal. And nothing beats the magic of turning those insights into actionable UX designs. Usability testing is the best way to evaluate usability and get information about how real users really manage to use the tested software.
Usability testing explained
Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate the usability of a product by testing it with 3-10 representative users. In the test, these users will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and take notes. The test can be done with paper prototypes, wireframes, partially functional html mockups, or fully functional systems.
How to test
In short, usability testing includes these activities:
• Define the objective and scope of the study
• Write the tasks to be completed
• Recruit users
• Run the tests with the users – one at a time. Ask the users to think aloud while doing the test tasks. Take notes and/or record the sessions.
• Review the notes and prioritize the findings
• Design improvement suggestions based on findings
When to test
You’ll get the most out of usability testing if you run several rounds of small tests throughout the development process – this way you can find usability issues early on, and fix them before the next round of testing. The earlier those problems are found and fixed, the less expensive the fixes are. Remember that you can usability test even a paper prototype!
Where to test
Usability testing can be done either in fixed usability laboratory, or simply in ordinary office or conference room. It’s good to have some recording equipment (microphone, screen capture, video) for your memory aid, but even a simple notebook and pen will do.
In optimal setting you facilitate and observe the tests in the same room with the participant, but testing can also happen remotely via telephone and screen sharing.
If you want facts instead of opinions and guesswork, the best thing to do is usability test your software. What works for users? Test it! What doesn’t? Test it! How to improve? Test, test, test!