The ease of use and ‘learnability’ of any man-made object – whether a tool or a device – is called usability. In a user-centered design paradigm, a product must be evaluated by testing it with real users – a technique commonly called Usability Testing or UT.
Why do we need UT?
UT helps us identify opportunities and pain points in the development process:
Preempt problems in early stages and fix them quickly
Ensure the product enables users to complete preset tasks
Measure the typical time taken to complete the tasks
Quantify users response
Outline ways to improve the experience
Determine if usability objectives are fulfilled
What should you test?
Often people test only the final product, however UT can be equally effective across multiple stages, such as
High/low fidelity prototypes
Fully/partially functional products
When should you conduct tests?
Defects found in the initial stages are easier and cheaper to fix. It is therefore ideal to start UT in the design phase itself, with multiple iterations till end.
Exploratory or Formative Study: Conducted early in the development cycle, when a product is still in the preliminary stages of being defined
Assessment or Summative Test: Conducted either early or midway, usually after the high-level design gets finalized
Validation or Verification Test: Conducted late in the development cycle, to measure the usability of a product against predetermined usability goals
Initially it can be used to compare different interface styles via an exploratory test, to check which is best for the users.
Towards the middle of the lifecycle, it can be used to measure the impact of design elements (such as gauging the preference for pictorial icons or textual buttons).
Toward the end, a comparison test can help understand how our product works against a rival product
Iterative Testing: A holistic framework, encompassing formative, summative, and verification tests
Where should you test it?
Based on the test location, UT is classified as:
Moderated: In a lab setup, where you and your user are in the same physical location
Remote: In a virtual environment with the help of screen-sharing tools, when you and your users are in different geographic locations
Automated: Over the Internet with hundreds or thousands of participants, with automated test scripts
Testing In-Home or On-Site: Participants are in the environment where they would normally use the product
Who are required for the test?
UT can be approached as an internal process, with designers and developers sitting together and exploring the product from the user’s point of view. But a more qualified approach is to hire real users and give them actual tasks. A facilitator can conduct the test and an observer can note down the user reactions.
The final report tells us whether the task was successful or not, easy or difficult, whether the experience was interesting or boring, engaging or annoying, and so on – capturing qualitative as well as quantitative data.
How do we break down the testing process?
UT validates if the product fits the user experience design model and to understand impression that users retain. A structured UT employs a user centered design methodology to design tasks, identify participants, execute tests, and finally analyze the results.
Is UT a complicated process?
People assume UT is expensive, complicated and technical, so they avoid including UT in their compact sprints. But UT is surprisingly manageable - most successful teams learn to conduct informal UT proactively. Once equipped with a design idea, they rapidly sketch it, create a prototype, and test it with user representatives – a process that becomes a habit with practice.
How can you initiate UT for your own projects?
Even if unfamiliar with the process, you can immediately plan for an internal test the UX designer’s help. This involves having an actual end user (or user representative) in front of your product and observing their actions and feelings. The goal is to determine how well the users can accomplish their desired tasks and to locate the pain points.
Are software tools mandatory?
The UT results, with or without a tool, remain the same. One advantage of a tool is the auto-generated test reports which can substantially cut down timelines.
Running internal UT will not only help us save cost and time, but also bring in a “user centered design” mentality and an “experience-centric” approach into the project team – eventually permeating across the organization as a whole.