Usability Testing in 4 Simplified Steps
Are you intimidated by usability testing? Don’t know where to start? Feel like it’s too time consuming or expensive?
Usability testing doesn’t need to be a fully-fledged psych experiment with a formal lab, big team, and lots of time and money. In the real world, it can (and often should) be much lighter and faster than that.
Here are four manageable steps that anyone can do to perform a free remote usability test. I’ll include some tips to make sure you get actionable data.
1. Start with a clear goal
Figure out the question you’re trying to answer with your test. Is there an important flow we need to make sure works well? Is there a new design we want to test out?
Based on that, pick 2 or 3 specific tasks to give the test participant. You can’t just say, “Hey, look at this website and tell me what you think.” We’ll learn much more if we watch them try to accomplish something.
Here are a few examples of tasks we could give the participant:
Too vague: Explore this new feature and tell me what you think.
Too specific: Go to the search bar, type in blue sandals, select size 9, choose the first one, click “Add to Cart” and continue to the checkout.
Better: Buy a pair of shoes for under $40.
2. Recruit participants
Recruiting test participants may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be.
For starters, we only need 3 to 5 people. Getting more than that isn’t worth it because there are diminishing returns on the data.
Focusing on finding representative people. This means people who look like our users and would have a reason to do the tasks we’re testing. Stay away from people inside your own company and people you know in real life—they’ll be too biased.
How do you find these people? The first place to look is your user base. It’s an instant pool of potential participants who care about your product. Look at your customer support and social media channels, or ask people on the app itself. You could also think about where your potential users hang out online (forums, etc.) and see if they’ll talk to you.
How do you get people to agree to do the test? A current user will likely be willing to do it for free if the test is quick (15 minutes or less). If you feel like you need to offer them a gift, consider things you could give them from your own company, like a free month. Or send each person a gift card—Amazon is good because all you need is an email address.
Once you’ve found participants, explain what the test is about and how long it will take. Set up time slots using Calendly and send them the release form if you’re using one.
3. Perform the test
- Create a prototype and send it to the participant. If you’re using a mockup, you can make it clickable with a tool like Marvel or Invision.
- Write a script. This ensures we’re giving the right information, and eliminates the chances of inconsistencies between tests (which are usually the test facilitator’s fault).
- Get recording software ready, and test video and audio before the session. You’ll want to record the test so you can focus on what’s happening and avoid having to furiously take notes. Something like Zoom or Google Meet is good enough.
- Welcome the participant and help them relax. You want to take some of the pressure off. Explain you are not testing them, you’re testing the site. If they make mistakes it’s the software’s fault, not theirs; we’re here to learn from their experience.
- Explain how the test will work. Ask them to try to think out loud as they perform each task. Explain that to ensure conditions are as real as possible, you won’t be able to offer them any advice.
- Explain the real life scenario that would lead to them performing this task so they can get in the right mindset. Let them read the task out loud and begin.
- Remain neutral and silent as the participant takes the test. This is not about teaching them how to use the interface. You’re there to listen and watch. Sometimes they may be critical or run into problems, but resist the urge to explain things or prompt them. If they ask you how to do something, reply with “What do you think?” or “I am interested in what you would do.”
- After each test, take a step back with the participant and ask, “How’d that go?” If you have specific questions, you can retrace their steps and ask them open ended questions like, “Why did you decide to do that there?” or “What was going through your mind at this point?”
- Thank them sincerely. If you offered an incentive, explain how they’ll receive it.
4. Analyze the results
Review the recording. Did the participant complete the task successfully and efficiently? If not, what stopped them? What were their key behaviors and comments?
Cross reference and look for patterns between the different participants. Rank the issues, identify solutions, and determine the best course of action moving forward.
Simple is better than nothing
If you remember one thing about usability tests, make it this: doing any kind of usability testing is always better than doing none. Even if it doesn’t exactly follow the steps above. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
You’ll keep getting better at this. Once you get into a rhythm of testing, you’ll learn shortcuts and boil things down to a process that works for you. It’ll become part of your process.
Try it out! Follow the steps in this article and perform your own usability test. See what benefits you gain from it. Feel free to ask me any questions you have, and let me know how it goes on Twitter or Instagram.
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