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Integrating Usability Testing into Your UX Process

December 2, 2019

Customer-centric organizations are advancing in today’s marketplace, growing their market share and revenues. They are leaving behind organizations that are failing to meet or exceed customers’ expectations, make their customers’ lives easier, and keep up with the fast-moving pace of digital products. According to research by Deloitte, client- or customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable in comparison to companies whose focus is not on the customer. The customer centricity of User Experience increases users’ satisfaction by making their tasks easier to complete.

It is all too easy to fall back on evaluating UX design subjectively. Does the UX designer like the design? Can the product team get it to work? What does the CEO think? However, what your stakeholders think of a UX design solution and whether it works for them are irrelevant. Real users, in real settings, are the only audience whose validation you need. You can achieve user validation through usability testing.

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Usability testing is the process of measuring and analyzing how a user experience performs with real users, by asking test participants to complete a series of tasks on a Web site, application, or prototype. Hundreds of usability studies and case studies have proven its benefits. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos invested much more in usability and design than in marketing during the portal’s first year. According to Forbes, IBM reports that every dollar they invest in usability brings a return on investment of between $10 and $100 dollars. It is astoundingly clear that a good user experience aligns with business success.

Conducting Usability Testing Effectively

However, the simple act of running usability studies does not guarantee success in User Experience. You must conduct usability testing in the right way to deliver maximal results.

The first step in planning a usability study is choosing what method to use. Consider whether you want to conduct moderated or unmoderated usability testing. In moderated studies, a UX researcher watches and listens as the user completes tasks live. The moderator can jump in and ask questions or help a participant who has gotten stuck. In unmoderated studies, participants complete tasks on their own. There are no opportunities to ask questions or support participants.

Both approaches have their merits, but many believe that unmoderated testing is most authentic. Participants can complete the tasks in their own home, on their own device, in a familiar, normal setting. Compare this experience to doing testing in a lab—an artificial environment where somebody is peering over the participant’s shoulder. In such a situation, factors such as participants’ trying to please the researchers and product-team members in the room can come into play.

Next, consider who should manage and conduct the usability study. In making this decision, it is essential to exercise caution to avoid bias in usability testing. Think about who in your organization might be too close to the design. Don’t risk introducing elements of bias through the way you analyze the results of a study. At this point, you might want to consider handing over the responsibility for a usability study to an external partner. Professional usability consultants can conduct a study, analyze the results, and report their findings back to you. This not only saves the time of the people on your team but also removes all risk of bias in the results.

Acting on the Results of a Usability Study

Once you’ve completed your usability study, what you do next is critical. You have a valuable source of knowledge and need to make the most of it.

First, you should layer the results of your usability study on top of insights from other sources. Does what you see in your Web analytics, click-tracking, scroll-mapping, user research, user surveys, and other sources of insights correlate with what you’ve learned from your study? Do your study’s results add further weight to those insights and help you make decisions?

Next, share what you have learned with stakeholders. You should share usability-testing results broadly—way beyond just your UX team. Make sure the product team, analysts, conversion team, marketing team, and any other key decision makers for your digital experience fully understand the learnings and next steps.

Now is the time to start taking action on the learnings from your study. There are three common approaches, as follows:

  • Simply fix any fundamental flaws that testing has identified in your user experience. These include things such as minor bugs and issues that are breaking the user experience.
  • Based on what you’ve learned during your study, create a set of hypotheses for improving the user experience and revise your design accordingly, then conduct A/B testing. This lets you validate any proposed changes with a large volume of real traffic on your site.
  • Once you think you’ve addressed your key insights from testing, consider doing iterative rounds of usability testing to evaluate whether you’ve successfully addressed the key issues and assess whether there are any further learnings you could glean.

Integrating Usability Testing into Your UX Design Process

Once you’ve successfully conducted a usability study, consider where usability testing fits into your overall UX design process. I typically recommend the following sequence of usability-testing activities:

  • usability temperature-check studies—On a quarterly or monthly basis, look at your key user journeys—for example, your primary marketing- or sales-funnel journey.
  • prototyping and usability validation—Refine and validate all user journeys and user experiences before launch.
  • post go-live usability studies—Test all new user experiences that your organization launches online.
  • ad hoc studies—These studies align with new business initiatives that affect your digital experience.

Embedding Usability Testing into Your Organization’s Culture

Really making an impact on your organization’s customer centricity, consistently delivering holistic user experiences, driving growth, and increasing revenues requires a cultural shift. You must fully embed the values of experimentation and leveraging user feedback into your organization’s culture and day-to-day thinking. This takes time and definitely won’t happen overnight.

However, you can greatly increase your chances of success by bringing your whole organization along on the usability-testing journey through full transparency around what you’re testing and what you learn. Give other stakeholders in your organization the opportunity to conduct usability studies and drive experimentation initiatives themselves. Simple things such as setting up a meeting room with facilities for playing back video-clip loops of the most insightful customer quotations from a usability study makes this information accessible across your organization and increases engagement.

Conclusion

Creating a culture of customer centricity and perfecting digital user experience is increasingly becoming aligned with business success. While it’s not easy to embed this way of thinking across an organization, there are many ways in which you can approach this challenge. Usability testing—when it is done properly—is an effective way of starting on this journey, getting closer to your users, and building stakeholder interest in user experience and usability. Have you integrated usability testing into your UX design process? 

Cofounder and Lead Usability Consultant at User Fountain

Head of Conversion Rate Optimization at Somebody Digital

London, UK

Lydia WrightLydia cofounded User Fountain, a managed usability-testing service. Her background is in conversion-rate optimization (CRO). She has managed CRO teams working on some of the world’s biggest brands. Lydia has been conducting usability-testing studies for over seven years—ever since she discovered the power of the insights it delivers and the positive impacts they have on CRO programs.  Read More

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