Usability Testing Methods Overview

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Celso Crivelaro
Celso Crivelaro
Head of Engineering

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Usability testing methods are helpful to any company to unsure the highest customer service and experience. Here are the different types and examples of when it can be beneficial to use.
Published on
July 21, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

Usability testing — in addition to performance testing and SaaS application security testing — is essential for an online service and is especially important for user experience developers and strategists. It’s integral to any business strategy, but not every business owner or executive understands what it’s for or how to implement it. 

Understanding usability testing is crucial, as it has many benefits and should be at the forefront of any product launch. Consider taking advantage of usability testing to give your customers the best user experience and ensure their loyalty.

What Is Usability Testing?

Usability testing refers to testing products and services to meet customer expectations and provide an outstanding experience. It helps the facilitator identify aspects of a product or service that could improve user experience.

A facilitator conducts usability testing with the help of participants. Its goal is to measure how easily participants can complete assigned tasks with your product or service and to identify pain points and technical issues that might compromise user experience.

Usability testing can be conducted at any time during the design process. However, most experts recommend conducting usability tests as early and as often as possible to catch issues as they occur.

If performed correctly, usability testing can identify pain points and reveal user behavior and preferences. Facilitators then work with development and product managers to fix these pain points and other usability issues to improve user experience.

Types of Usability Testing

When determining which type of usability testing method to utilize, the main factors to consider include whether testing is remote or in-person and whether it’s moderated or unmoderated.

In-Person vs. Remote Usability Testing

With remote testing, the facilitator and the participants can be in separate locations and complete the tests over the phone or online. Remote tests allow participants to use their own devices, providing the facilitator with valuable information about how participants use a product or service on their devices.

However, using remote testing has its drawbacks. For example, it may require tech-savvy users who have their own hardware, which might not be indicative of your general user population.

Remote testing also inhibits the examination of participants’ non-verbal communication, it’s at a greater risk of technical difficulties than other testing methods, and security breaches are possible. For these reasons, remote testing should only be used for fairly simple and straightforward products and services.

In-person testing solves many of the issues that remote testing faces. For example, facilitators can easily examine users’ body language and facial expressions, and users experience fewer distractions in a controlled environment. Recruiting for in-person tests is also easier than remote recruitment because participants don’t have to own or use their own devices.

Moderated & Unmoderated Testing

Whether a test is moderated or not is another characteristic of usability testing. Moderated testing involves a person facilitating the testing experience by helping the user throughout the test, answering questions, and addressing any technical issues that arise. Moderated tests require more planning and a stricter schedule than unmoderated testing.

Unmoderated testing uses a flexible schedule in which participants complete tasks and answer questions independently. This form of testing tends to be less time-consuming than moderated testing. However, the drawback of unmoderated testing is that participants don’t have a facilitator available to address any problems they may experience.

Explorative vs. Comparative Usability Testing

Two other types of usability testing methods are explorative and comparative usability testing. Explorative tests are conducted at the beginning phases of product development. They are open-ended and allow participants to voice their opinions on the concept and usability of a product. Based on participants' feedback, developers can gather qualitative data to tweak their product design.

Comparative testing aims to compare two or more similar websites or products to determine how participants use them and which they prefer. Comparative testing can be used to test websites, apps, and functional products. While you can do comparative testing at any stage of product development, it’s best to do it sooner.  

Common Methods of Usability Testing

Common usability testing methods include guerrilla testing sessions, lab usability testing, unmoderated remote usability testing, card sorting, and phone interviews.

Guerilla Testing Sessions

Guerilla testing sessions aim to eliminate the time constraints of usability studies. Facilitators find participants on the street for these testing sessions and ask them to participate in usability tests. These tests are usually performed on the spot, and participants are given a small incentive for their time.

Guerilla testing allows you to test your product or service on an audience with little to no prior knowledge of your product or service. This method helps you gather valuable feedback and is also budget-friendly. You will typically follow these steps when conducting a guerilla testing session:

  • Choose a fitting location
  • Find eligible participants
  • Provide context to participants
  • Offer incentives
  • Conduct the test

Lab Usability Testing

This method is typically used to collect and examine non-numerical data. Participants perform assigned tasks on a website or application at a purpose-built laboratory. Facilitators are present to answer questions and concerns, and cameras record the testing.

Laboratory testing generally takes 45 minutes to an hour and usually requires six to 12 participants. Laboratory tests can help you identify problems, collect qualitative data, evaluate exclusive applications or prototypes, and build integrity for usability activities.

You will generally follow these steps when conducting a laboratory test:

  • Prioritize issues and pain points
  • Identify the desired characteristics of participants
  • Develop test protocols, handouts, and questionnaires.
  • Recruit the right participants
  • Perform a pilot test
  • Conduct real test sessions

Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing

Unmoderated remote usability testing allows users to participate from their homes, usually at their own pace and at any time. This type of testing does not require a facilitator and is flexible and cost-effective. Unmoderated tests are most effective for examining live websites and apps or functional prototypes in which participants aren’t expected to use much of their imagination.

Unmoderated remote testing typically requires you to follow these steps:

  • Outline study goals
  • Choose the testing software
  • Write down tasks and questions
  • Conduct a pilot test
  • Recruit your target audience
  • Provide the actual test to participants

Card Sorting

Card sorting is a usability testing method to evaluate your website’s information architecture. With this testing method, participants sort topics into categories using cards, pieces of paper, or an online card-sorting tool. Card sorting helps facilitators better understand user expectations regarding what information to put on your homepage and how to label the navigation.

There are two types of card sorting: open and closed. With open card sorting, participants organize topics from your website’s content into category names they choose. Closed card sorting means participants sort topics into categories that are predetermined.

You will usually follow these steps when using the card sorting method:

  • Decide whether you will use physical cards or a mobile adaptation
  • Prepare your cards with various content and topics from your website
  • Set up the session by arranging the area and preparing the cards or devices
  • Offer incentives or payment
  • Conduct the session, carefully watching and analyzing participants

Phone Interviews

Another method for usability testing used to gather user feedback about websites, applications, processes, or products is phone interviewing. You can use this method to better understand what users deem important about your product or service and to better understand your product or service’s pain points.

To conduct an effective phone interview, you will generally follow these steps:

  • Decide on a goal for the interview, such as what you want to learn
  • Determine the questions you want to ask during the interview
  • Find your target users
  • Call the users and make them feel comfortable
  • Ask follow-up questions

Usability Testing Examples

One example of a usability testing method is selecting two groups and having each interact with one of two versions of a website or product. For example, a development team can create two iterations of a delivery app, each with its own UI and features. One group tests app A, while the other tests app B, and each is given tasks to complete. Tasks can include:

  • Order a combo meal to be delivered at a specific time
  • Use app offers to get discounts and reward points
  • Customize a meal of your choice with specific toppings

As they interact with the app, their interactions are recorded, and they are asked questions about the tasks they were given. Questions may include:

  • Was it easy to place an order?
  • Was it easy to find and apply offers?
  • Was it easy to customize your meal to your liking?

Researchers then collect the results from both groups and both app versions. The results are compared to determine which website or product performed better.

Choose the Usability Test Method That Fits Your Needs

Choosing the suitable usability test method for your needs can be overwhelming, especially with so many methods to consider. You don’t have to make a choice alone. Revelo can help match you with professionals who know what usability testing method will work best for your product or service and to ensure you have the right personnel for the job. Contact Revelo today for a consultation.

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