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.