How to do usability testing to improve your user experience

Your users are getting lost and confused

Your app or website might be super valuable to your users, but if they can’t quickly figure out how to use it, many will give up and leave.

This is what happens on most government websites, you can’t really escape filling in your tax report, but it feels as if they had tried to make it as hard as possible for you to achieve what you thought would be a 2-minute ordeal. Unfortunately for you, using your app is probably not as important to your users as not getting a massive fine.

Usability tests are an easy way to reduce the risk of losing users

Usability testing is a qualitative way of figuring out if your target customers can use the solution you have in mind.

The usability risk is high in most client-facing UI and can and should be addressed as early as possible.

Test before writing a single line of code

Testing on a prototype can help you save 100’s of hours of coding / changing and deleting features later on.

The earlier you learn, the cheaper the changes are.

Because it’s so important, a lot of best practices have emerged, making this the easiest type of customer interview.

So go outside or send a few emails, find some users ready to take 15 minutes with you, and get testing.

How to run a test

Set proper context:

  1. Thank them for taking parts
  2. Ask if it’s still ok to take XX mins and if ok for you to record it (if applicable)
  3. Mention that the goal is to perform a set of tasks, not to focus on design details
  4. Reassure them by saying that you’re testing the app not them
  5. Inform them that this is a test environment (or mockup) so can’t break anything and it’s normal if some things are not working
  6. Ask if they have any question, if not, let’s get started

Perform and assess the tasks:

  1. Those tasks should be based on a set of pre-defined assumptions. You want to test for the most crucial / risky flows.
    Ex: “We think it’ll be obvious to the user where to find their message once sent”
  2. Instruct the person to perform the tasks

Don’t: Tell them where to click, what to look for

Click the message button” ❌

Don’t: Use the exact copy of the UI

“Please send a message to Capital Panache” ❌

Do: Tell them what to achive in everyday language

“Please get in touch with Capital Panache” ✔️

Don’t: Answer their question

User: “What happens if I click the button?”
You: “Oh, that sends a message to the agency” ❌

Do: Ask what they think in order to understand their assumptions

User: “What happens if I click the button?”
You: “Mmmh, what do you think?” ✔️
User: “I guess it’ll open some kind of inbox”
You: “Like in a popup kinda like messenger on Facebook”
User: “Oh ok, well, can you try?” ✔️

Do: Ask what were their thoughts when you read interesting body language

User: *Frown* then *looks like EUREKA!*
You: “Ah! Have you discovered something?” ✔️
User: “YES! I thought it was a cancel but then I saw the red label so I understood it was more of a delete?”

Note whether each task was:

  • Succesful → Found and perfomed the target action without problem
  • Adding Friction → A bit hard but could manage
  • Blocking → Could not perform it without external help

Wrap up

  1. Thank them again for taking part
  2. Inform them what are your next step, if you plan on communicating back to them, mention it and ask what channel would be suit them
  3. Ask if they have any extra feedback / question / ideas

Capture and act upon the learnings

Don’t rush! It usually takes 5-6 person to see trends appear. Don’t fix everything you see before either being convinced yourself or seeing it happen multiple times.

Summarize the learnings
A great framework is to have the following assessment for each key action:
We thought thatWe saw thatTherefore we will

For example:

  • We thought that the user would understand that search was performed on each action
  • We saw that most users don’t understand the search has been performed and look for a search CTA
  • Therefore we will add the CTA while keeping the hot refresh

Make it painful: People don’t have your context and will likely doubt your findings, therefore it’s great to have videos or data to highlight the main problems encountered and make everyone feel the pain of the users.

Want to get started or go further?

Interesting Tools

  • Maze.design is a slick tool allowing you to do remote asynchronous usability testing. We’ve done this with our Invision or Figma prototypes.
  • Markup.io is an easy way to get feedback on a live website.

Robin Rampaer

Head of Product at Sortlist, Robin is passionate about data-informed product management, running, reading, and hiking

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