Usability Testing: Basic Knowledge and Techniques

As important as they are, no product functionalities will be appreciated by your customers if they are not user-friendly. No one might find or understand how to use these functionalities. How to evaluate the user-friendliness of your product? How to develop a product that will be liked by users? In this article, you will learn what usability testing is and how it works. 

Roles and Tasks of Usability Testing

Usability testing allows determining if a software product is suitable for use. It can be divided into dynamic verification and static verification. Dynamic testing generates a scenario or a real situation when a tester completes a list of tasks while observers make some remarks. During the static verification process, feedback about the product is gathered.  

The main goal of usability testing is to monitor how people use functionalities of the product in real time, whether they like it, and if there are any serious problems. Here are other problem areas related to usability testing:

  • Efficiency defines how many steps and how much time are needed for testers to complete their tasks. 
  • Accuracy determines how many mistakes are made by people while completing tasks.
  • Recall determines how many people remember how to use the product after a certain period of time.
  • Emotion response determines how a person feels after using the product and whether he will recommend it to other users.

To test user experience correctly, testers should know how their potential users look like and what they expect. 

How to Get to Know Your Users?

While developing a new product or optimizing the existing one, testers and designers should use the knowledge of their users about the product they already used. People will always approach a new product basing on what they used earlier that’s why designers have to work with users’ expectations. That is called a mental model. 

A mental model is based on convictions, not on facts i.e. the model of what people know or think that they know about your software product or website. Such models are formed due to regular use of a particular application or website. To comply with the existing mental models, designers should understand the expectations of users about how the product will work. 

Sometimes, actual mental models developed by designers and models of real users don’t coincide. In such cases, usability testing can help determine incompatibility between a developed interface and a mental model of final users. For example, the mismatch can be eliminated with the help of simpler registration or response in real time. 

The Key Techniques to Evaluate Usability

Let’s find out the key methods to evaluate usability. 


#1 – Card Sorting 

Card sorting is a classification technique which includes sorting of various elements of the website according to multiple categories. To conduct this type of testing, testers should make a list of parameters that will be used during the classification. Each parameter should be written on a separate card. These cards are given to users that are to group them in the most logical way. The results of card sorting are then used to organize the user interface. 


#2 Contextual Inquiry 

Contextual inquiry is a method of structuring an interview that is based on three basic principles such as follows:

  • the context in which the site is used
  • collaborative evaluation of the site by users and developers
  • focus on usability

This type of testing is best suited for evaluating the environment in which the product will be used that’s why it is carried out on the early stages of software product development


#3 – Checklists

Checklists help make sure that a website is developed with regard to the key principles of design functionalities. Checklists are usually used at the end of testing to structure the expert evaluations according to a certain number of parameters. There are lots of ready lists, however, the decision to use one of them depends on the testing tasks. Typically, testers make a list of their own testing needs and quality criteria.


#4 – Prototyping 

Prototyping is the development of a product model that allows testing its elements on any stage of the software development life cycle. Prototyping can be of two types% horizontal and vertical.  

Horizontal prototyping is used mainly to study users’ interface preferences. This type of testing allows determining the best places for features and how accessible these features are for users. Vertical prototyping helps testing separate components and is focused on detailed testing of a small sector of a product. 


#5 – Surveys

Surveys are special interviews with users. Users are asked questions. Their answers are recorded for further processing. Usually, the questions include demographic data about users, evaluation of the website’s content, evaluation of design, etc. Surveys are used during software development phases, marketing research as well as while identifying potential users, determining their needs and computer skills.  


#6 – Self-Reporting Logs

Reports are documents where users record their actions and opinions about their interaction with a website or an application. This method is rather cost-saving since specialists are involved to process results only. The main disadvantage of this method is that it is impossible to control emotional reactions of users during their interaction with the product. To conduct this type of testing, users must be provided with access to the product prototype, task description, and a standard form to register users’ actions.


#7 – Focus Groups

Focus groups are surveys conducted within a certain group of users. Usually, such a survey takes around two hours and engages from 6 to 9 users. The main advantage of this method is that it allows determining spontaneous reactions and ideas. The main disadvantage of focus groups is that the evaluation may be inaccurate because it is based on convictions, thoughts, and preferences of a small number of people.

Usability testing helps increase website conversion rate, find hidden intents and wishes of users, make a decision concerning the development of new functionality. Every company has its own goals of usability testing that’s why metrics may vary, however, you should keep in mind that usability must be effective and productive. 

Author’s Bio

About the Author


Dmitry Reshetchenko is a Outreach Specialist for Diceus, a technology partner for developing enterprise solutions. He is passionate in his belief that a partnership with IT blogs is of great importance. Dmitry works mostly with Tech blogs.
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