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What is a usability test and why is it key to your digital product success?

What is a usability test and why is it key to your digital product success?

by: Yiannis Zavros

What is a usability test and why is it key to your digital product success?

Usability testing involves getting real people to interact with your website or application, and observing their behavior and reactions as they attempt to complete tasks on it. This could be as simple as moderated interviews or card sorting to watching session recordings, or utilize eye-tracking equipment and software analysis a lab. However you choose to do it, usability testing is a necessary step as it helps to reveal areas of confusion, and ultimately allows you to ensure that your users have an effective, efficient and enjoyable experience.

What is Usability?

“Design is not just about what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Before we delve into the importance of usability testing, it’s important to understand what we mean when we refer to usability. Usability (often referred to as functionality in a digital landscape) means making sure that a product – be it a website or an appliance or a simple everyday item – works well, and that a person of average ability and experience can use it without becoming frustrated. And as Steve Krug, author of ‘Don’t Make Me Think,’ aptly sums up: “The only way to know if it works, is to test it.”

What is Usability Testing?

As we established above, usability is aimed at the end user. It is therefore imperative that the end user’s view is brought into the development process in order to determine how usable your product is. Usability testing is the process wherein the user is observed while testing the functionality of a website, app, or other digital product in order to reveal any areas of confusion. While there is no strictly defined usability testing process, a usability test generally takes into account the following areas:

Learnability: how easy it is to use the product upon first contact with it

Efficiency: ease of use once users are familiar with the product

Memorability: how easily users can remember how to use a product after a period of not using it

Error frequency: how often users made errors and how easy it is to overcome them

Overall satisfaction: how enjoyable it is to use the product.

What are the benefits of Usability Testing?

On a fundamental level, usability testing allows you to decide whether your digital product is ready to be launched, or if there are still some wrinkles to be ironed out. However, there are plenty more benefits to user testing your product.

  1. It helps validate your prototype

No matter where you are in the development process, you can validate your prototype by testing users’ reactions early on to prevent your team from wasting resources building a product that users won’t respond well to.

  1. It helps create a better user experience

From streamlining the checkout process to removing design bottlenecks or catching things like bugs and broken links, usability tests help make your product easier and more intuitive to use, contribute to its perception as a professional and trustworthy product, and your customers will ultimately enjoy using it.

  1. Illuminate other data points

Usability tests add context to other data by connecting the dots between what happens and why. For example, a heat map might show you that users are ignoring a certain element on your homepage, but a usability test with eye-tracking technology can help you understand why they are ignoring it.

  1. It helps you empathize with your customers

When developing a product, it’s easy to get lost in the details of endless product iterations and you may often forget to look at things from a typical user’s point of view. Usability tests allow you to experience your product from their perspective, which gives you a bigger picture to work with and helps you develop products they’ll enjoy.

  1. It helps you get buy-in for change

It’s one thing to be aware of your product issues, but it’s a lot more helpful to be able to see exactly where users get stuck. Seeing how and where your user struggles with your product is impactful, and can help you implement changes, both in your product and within your organization.

The process

Usability Testing is a high level process with five distinct stages that can perfectly fit into any stage of a product development cycle:

  1. Preparation:This is the most crucial step in the whole process. At this stage you want to clearly define your research objectives, the type of data you want to collect, and what you want your users to test. Additionally, you should outline the logistical details of your usability testing session: location, timetable, moderator, recording set-up, etc.
  2. Recruitment: The first step to recruiting the right users is identifying your target audience. If you have a good idea of who your customer is, then this can be relatively straightforward. If not, it’s important to create personas of your potential product users in order to find the right people. 
  3. Testing: Once you’ve outlined your testing goals, you can choose the best testing method for your research. No matter what you choose – in-person testing or remote testing – it’s best to have a set procedure to follow with each participant. This leaves some room for customization, but still secures an overall homogenous experience for all test subjects.
  4. Analysis: Once you have collected all the data, it’s time to begin sorting through it with your designers and product managers in order to reach conclusions. The most serious and frequent problems users encounter will be singled out for further examination, and you will also discover patterns of behavior that will help you modify your design to address the important issues.
  5. Report: A usability testing report outlines the discoveries and conclusions in a structured way that helps your team plan the next steps and create a strategy for what actions need to be taken in order to address the issues. A detailed report should include a summary, goals, methodology, and participants.

What to expect after a usability test

There are two types of data gathered during a usability test: quantitative and qualitative. Both types are helpful outcomes that provide an insight to how a business can adapt their product to address user concerns or difficulties. Qualitative data refers to a user’s observations or feelings about a product, and these findings can help improve a product to make it more desirable for the user. Quantitative data are metrics that reflect a product’s ease of use, and provide insight in actual numbers, such as task completion times or number of errors.​

The importance of usability testing in digital product development cannot be overstated, as this is the only way to make sure a digital product is a good fit for its intended audience. Customers who are dissatisfied with a mediocre product are unlikely to give it a second chance, and this could mean potential loss of future revenue. Through our usability testing methods and technologies, we can help you shine a light on those problem areas and deliver a stellar experience to your users, every time.