The difference between a five-star app and a flop may be feeling, not functionality. Get continuous feedback with usability testing by real people under real world conditions.
What is Usability Testing?
Usability testing continuously tests to see whether users feel comfortable and competent on your app. Whether you’re implementing prototypes for a new feature, changing an existing interface, or even making subtle changes to wording, usability testing ensures your software works.
Most software testing focuses on functionality and fixing all major bugs. But usability testing explicitly focuses on the user experience. Ultimately, usability testing asks whether an application will be easy to use. If not, you can bet your users will quickly move on to another software option that’s easier to navigate. The vast majority (88%) of users will abandon a site after just one bad experience.
This type of testing requires real users. These users are asked to complete tasks to help measure how “usable” or “intuitive” an app or site is under real world conditions. Usability testing is not developers proving to themselves that the app functions exactly as they coded it. Rather, usability testing collects feedback from outsiders about their experience accomplishing what they want to with the software or site.
Usability testing has various forms:
- Comparative: users compare one app or site to another to gauge which one provides a better experience.
- Explorative: users test various realistic scenarios to see what needs are not being effectively met.
- Focused on evaluating a specific new feature or update to identify any potential issues before a widespread launch.
- Benchmarking the site or app’s progress over time.
Why do usability testing?
Internet users expect to figure out how to use a website or app quickly and easily. Most won’t stick around to figure something out if it’s a struggle. Even the most beautiful site or smartest app ever developed is going lose users if it doesn’t load quickly or live up to its promises.
Yet software and site developers may be reluctant to do usability testing. After all, it means that actual users are gaining access to the product, often before the launch. This means opening oneself up to the risk of bad publicity as users see all of the bad (along with the good) that your product has to offer.
However, leaving usability testing until late in the product development cycle could mean that major problems go unidentified for longer. This leaves developers, managers, and marketers at a loss when unforeseen issues emerge.
Since usability testing mimics real-life use of the software or site, it offers many advantages:
- Direct user feedback to focus project team efforts to improve the product.
- Ability to test multiple development options to determine the next best path for an update or new launch.
- Fresh eyes to identify potential issues or problems that could negatively impact launch.
- With usability testing done well, businesses will know their audience. This can minimize the risks of product failure.
Types of usability testing
This type of testing can address several different research goals. This is true regardless of the interface type (mobile, desktop, or physical device) or testing mode. Usability testing typically aims to accomplish the following:
- Uncover issues: Participants are asked to attempt realistic tasks with the goal of identifying any usability problems. These then can be fixed before product release.
- Benchmark changes: Software changes. New features are added, and new iterations are released. Testing to benchmark compares new data to historical data to assess the impact of the changes. This usability measure can help to drive future design decisions.
- Compare competition: Some tests only look at how usable your software or site is on its own. This one asks participants to perform the same tasks on competitor sites or products. This provides actual contexts for making decisions on whether or not usability testing findings actually merit changes.
- Continued use: Many usability tests focus on initial use. Usability testing can also draw on the insights of end users with more experience with a product or task. This helps developers understand usability better among those who have had some training or repeated exposure to the product. It can identify problems that won’t impact first-time users, but could lead to loyal customer churn when releasing new features.
Want to experience more reliable usability testing? Enlist a representative sample of your entire user population. You need a test process that provides useful information on effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction—the holy trinity of usability.
Steps in usability testing
A typical usability test has several stages. The process should look something like this:
Determine test objectives: Use questions from developers, either broad or specific, to guide usability testing. Questions might include:
- “Do you have any questions about how an interaction or workflow will work?”
- “What do you, as a user, do first when you download the new app?”
- Do people notice a new link on a particular page?
Recruit participants: Participating usability testers should closely resemble the product’s target audience. For example, if the app is meant to help golfers while they are on the course, you need to find participants with some knowledge of golf. The device focus should be mobile, since your users probably won’t be using desktop computers on their golf carts!
Plan test: Get organized. Usability tests will be more effective if you have clear goals, a plan to record session information, clearly outlined tasks and questions, and mechanisms for reporting feedback.
Run test: Usability testing is about seeing what real end users do with your product. Determine what works well and what needs to be improved. Listen to their needs and concerns. Identify ways to make the product work better for them.
Analyze findings: When reviewing your findings, look for themes, especially those related to testing goals. Plan how to best communicate these findings to stakeholders.
Determine next steps: Based on findings, your developers, managers, and marketers need to examine what needs to be done before the product release.
Usability testing with crowdtesters
Using professional crowdtesters for usability testing lowers your risks even further. Selecting crowdtesters who are similar to your intended audience, you can rely on their expertise, honesty, and confidentiality. They have the background in quality assurance to test big or small chunks of software. They can test as often as you need pre-release without you having to worry about negative exposure.
Turning to crowdtesting for usability testing enables more complex, specific testing processes, too. Crowdtesters are qualified not only for traditional software testing, but also for the more specific needs of your project.
For instance, you might engage crowdtesters to test end-to-end how easy it is to register and log in as a new user. You might want them to test how to add items to a shopping cart and complete a purchase. They aren’t loyal to your product, like friends or employees would be. They have no reason to give you false hopes about how your software might do on the market.
Challenges in usability testing
There are some challenges in usability testing:
- It can’t anticipate every possible user scenario and pain point.
- Humans sometimes provide vague or inaccurate qualitative feedback. This leaves developers and designers stuck with usability testing results that aren’t particularly illuminating.
- Usability testers may also confirm their own biases. For instance, they know what they want but may not know what they need. This rings true with a quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” His audience hadn’t even considered automobiles.
Effective crowdtesting can address these concerns. It offers usability testing that improves user experience and flow. This helps you optimize your app, site, or software.
Usability testing with test IO
Usability testing doesn’t need to be an expensive, time-consuming study that you only do once. At test IO, we make usability testing simple and straightforward. It enables developers to perform testing continuously. It’s like hallway testing for quick and useful feedback on prototypes, new features, language, and workflow.
What makes test IO’s efforts more effective than typical hallway testing? Our testers are a diverse group. They don’t have the biases and expectations that testers from within your company might have:
- Friendliness bias: wanting to agree.
- Social desirability bias: wanting to be accepted by the group and saying what others want to hear.
- Familiarity bias: giving the expected answer, regardless of one’s experience.
Our testers use their devices like real users do. They use privacy settings, ad blockers, and configured locations to provide realistic scenarios. They craft real-world situations that steer clear of your corporate Kool Aid.
test IO’s crowdtesters also have deep testing experience. They possess broad knowledge of possible issues that your developers might not have considered. Plus, testers in a crowdtesting environment are available from many locations all around the globe. They present a far more diverse user base than traditional usability testing methods.
test IO’s expert testers often already work as software professionals. They might be looking to expand their skill set or to do challenging work on the side. As professional testers, crowdtesters can be asked to evaluate any aspect of the software. This ranges from common fault identification and reporting to elaborate usability test cases. They also provide structured feedback with appropriate images and supporting evidence. And you can always follow up with them to find out more.
With hundreds of testers, test IO offers human usability testing in highly varied real-world conditions. We test at an unprecedented scale and level of efficiency. Our testers use real devices in the real world. You’ll know how variables like network latency and screen size affect usability—before you ship. We can design, test, and report usability feedback in the way you need, in a timely fashion.