What Is Usability Testing?
When designing a product you are investing in the outcome of your product, and how it will look and feel to your target audience. You want your product to meet your customer's expectations and better yet, exceed their expectations with a positive experience from all aspects of your product. But, how can you know if your product will bring the right solutions to your customer’s issues? How do you find potential bugs in your product, and where is it faulty?
Can you validate the decision-making process and make the right decisions for your product?
This is where the importance of usability testing comes in. Usability testing is the process in which a product is evaluated through the eyes and opinions of a selected user base typically representing the typical consumer of that product. Usability testing can also be used to test services as well. With usability testing, you can address your audience's pain points, detect potential problems with your product, and aid in the decision-making process to create a successful product built with customers in mind.
The Benefits of Usability Testing
As mentioned before, some of the most significant benefits of usability testing can be essential final parts of the design process in optimizing a product for the market. The earlier in the design process we can detect potential problems and fix them saving time and money later on. Potential problems such as bugs, hardware issues depending on the product, and numerous other factors that would inconvenience your customer. In detecting these problems early on, companies skip the process of having to rerelease a product after possible complaints of faulty features.
An example of this could be the rebranding of Instagram focusing on video in recent news, while they were trying to stay relevant in a world where TikTok is on the rise, it left many of their core userbase upset with the features of the new product. If you ask me, it seems they didn’t ask enough of their users how they felt about these changes. This led to a campaign started by a user petitioning “make Instagram, Instagram again” which took off and forced Instagram to pay attention. Instagram will now be rolling back some of its product updates that emphasized video-based content and other similar features to TikTok.
This scenario with Instagram can be used as a pretty convincing argument for why usability testing can be so important to any product before it’s released. In gaining insights about users and products we can understand how our users truly feel about certain features of a product, without upsetting a loyal userbase, which is often detrimental to a brand in some cases. As they say, make sure you have your “ducks in a row”, or simply have done the right research and usability testing to ensure a product meets customer satisfaction.
Lastly, another benefit to usability testing which can be seen early on in the development of a product is using data to support the decision-making process. When there is evidence to support the direction of the product, developers can move in that direction more confidently and with reason. Usability testing validates these decisions based on proven results and data, which in the end you really can’t argue with data all that much. It’s all in the numbers!
Characteristics and Types of Usability Testing
Usability testing comes in many different types, but all feature distinct characteristics in how the information is gathered. Here are a few of the different types of usability testing we felt are greatly beneficial to explore:
- Formative usability testing deals with the “formation” of a product, from the more foundational stages taking into consideration the shape and form of a product. In formative usability testing, designers ask the why in the beginning design conceptions of a product and the how to accomplish this.
- Summative usability testing involves a selection of users to evaluate the product based on specific criteria, such as does this function serve its intended purpose or something along those lines. This method is indirectly asking users to evaluate the product with questions like, “What purpose did this product serve?”. Summative unlike formative is done post-release of the product.
- Face-to-face focuses on the more direct questions to your selection of users, asking directly why they may have taken an action so that users can provide reasoning behind their actions or thoughts. This helps accelerate the design process, getting to the core of what is needed.
- Remote usability testing takes emphasis on your user testing in their environment as opposed to traditional testing where there is a designated testing location. Typically this is done through screen-sharing or services that specialize in remote testing options.
What Can Be Measured in a Usability Test?
As with all testing, it’s important to understand the various metrics that come as a result of testing otherwise what’s the point? The end goal of usability testing for a product is ensuring your product is user-friendly, addresses user problems, and is functional. In measuring specific outcomes from the users’ experience you can understand a lot about how your product is functioning in the real world, not just from your and your team's perspective. There’s no better way to see the outcome of a product than to measure the outcomes of your usability testing. We chose a few of the metrics that we found essential in evaluating usability testing:
- Task Success, one of the most important things to be measured in a usability test is how successful your users are when completing a task within the product. In measuring task success, we take into consideration the success of each task and how it contributes to the overall product. Task success is key to determining usability. An example of a task scenario that could be given to a user would be asking them to find an article or link on your website.
- Task Time we are measuring how long it takes to complete a task, which ends up revealing specific usability issues. When it task time is longer it often indicates that there are issues with the interface and how your users are interacting with your product.
- Errors in usability testing also show us specific problems with the user interface and reveal what human interactions may be failing, although nearly the correct intention is a user error. An example of this would be accidentally clicking on the wrong link nearby or mistyping.
- Subjective Satisfaction is all about perception from the user experience. We’re measuring how satisfied users are from their interactions with a product, their ease of learning, and their willingness to complete a task within their experience. Essentially users are having fun with their interactions, such as computer games or something of that nature.
The importance of usability testing of a product ensures that all your bases are covered, from the functionality of a product to the satisfaction of your user as they interact with the product. When observing real-life interactions we can understand the full potential of a product and does it meet your and your user's expectations. Usability testing aids in the product development process as well, providing evidential data to support decision-making in the design and functionality of a product. Users provide the best insight into a product as they are the ones that will be using it, so it only makes sense to study and learn from their interactions with your product. There will always be something you are missing if you don’t step back and look through the experience of another!
Check out our article Design it Before You Build it.
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