Usability Testing 101: What You Need to Know

September 23, 2014

Usability testing is a part of the design process that is easily misinterpreted and regularly skipped because managers and developers don't see or understand how it can add value to a website. For many, they don't know how to start with usability testing in the first place and so they overlook this fundamental stage. Ultimately, usability testing can help highlight issues on your website and give you valuable feedback on your user needs. This blog explains everything you need to know about usability testing and how to get started with your own test.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a way to see whether your site is working correctly and meeting the needs of the end-user. You want to test your site because you want your user experience to be the best it can be so users will return to your website and recommend it to others. Usability testing adds value to your website and the first step is establishing what method will work for you when conducting a test.

Usability Tasks and Questions

Depending on what you are looking to achieve from your test, there are several tasks and questions you can ask your user as they make their way through a page on your website or the entire website itself. Here are some options, but be aware that as you become more in tune with usability testing, you may combine questions and tasks.

Single Test:

This test helps you assess just one element of your website at a time. You could be looking to test part of the interface, the navigation tools, layout or how easy it is to find your product and/or service. Here are some questions you may ask for this type of test:

  • Go to the blog on the website?
  • Where would you click for the Facebook page?
  • Where would you click to purchase the product?

A/B Testing

A/B testing is useful if you want to see how users will react to a change in your interface, or different wording on your website, a variety of navigational options and a selection of button variations. It helps you decide which option you might choose and any redesigns you may feel you need to do.

Preference Test

This one is quite self-explanatory. You give your user two different options and they choose the one they prefer. This is particularly useful if you are thinking of adding and/or changing features on your website. It is effective with UI changes and shows designers how their user is interpreting the design.Note about testing: Always make sure your user is talking your through what they are doing on your website. For example, if they are looking for a 'register' button, make sure they are explaining to you

Questions to ask in a Usability Test

What part of this page stands out the most?Primarily, you have a website for a reason and if users aren't being drawn to the purpose of your website then you may want to make some changes.

How would you go about completing (enter task)?

The logical path that you may take as a designer may not be the logical path that your user takes and watching how people use your site can give you some incredible insight into how usable your site is. This question helps you to understand the conventions your user is used to and what different colours and boxes may mean to them.

What product and/or service does this website offer?

Your homepage should elude to the product and service you offer and usability testing is a great way to see if your users actually now what you are all about. Testing this may entice you to reconsider images, fonts and other tweaks to help get the message of your brand across more clearly. This question is especially valuable because users typically have a short attention span, and if you aren't obvious from the start you may lose them.

When to test?

Now and every month afterwards. You should be constantly evolving with the web and usability testing gives you fresh information. Maybe your users are disappointed because you haven't linked your website to Instagram yet?  Each one of these small changes will help to keep your website up to date with the current trends in your community and keep your users coming back for more.

Have you conducted a usability test before? What did you discover?

Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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