Usability Testing: methods and examples

Letizia Zappa
By Letizia Zappa

Usability testing is a pretty much-diffused term nowadays and has become the focus of attention for many businesses but what does usability really mean? How can you test usability? What usability testing methods are there? Given the extreme importance of this topic, we have decided to write an article about Usability Testing to walk our customers through the essential knows and hows by giving explanations and examples, making complex…simple.

What is usability and why should you care about it?

Let’s start with the very basic dictionary meaning. Usability is defined as “ease of use”. To be more specific, we can say usability is the ease of access and use of an object. It is an indicator that answers the question:

“How easy is an object to use?”

While usability finds its origins in product design, nowadays it is also vital for apps, websites and more in general user interfaces. Let’s just think about it: developing an e-commerce website with a counterintuitive purchasing funnel may have catastrophic consequences!

It quickly becomes clear how crucial it is to evaluate interfaces’ usability. Such a practice is called Usability Testing.

What is usability testing? What is the purpose of usability testing?

Usability testing is defined as the evaluation of a product by testing it on potential users. 

The only way to understand if something is easy to use is to concretely make individuals try it while observing their behaviour and comments very carefully.

If for example, a washing machine brand wanted to test the usability of its product, then it would have to test it on a potential customer.  To understand whether or not the machine is usable, the company should pick a potential customer and give her a precise task. A good example could be “use the machine to wash these clothes with the cotton program at 30 degrees”. By then observing the potential customer, the company would acquire precious knowledge about their washing machine.

Going back to the tech field, usability testing evaluates important aspects vital for usability such as the overall website structure, the clarity of contents and the navigation flow. Usability testing is entirely based on the end customer perspective and it has the final aim to understand whether or not an average user would find an interface easy to navigate and to explore.

May it be a washing machine, may it be a website, usability testing requires to carefully observe users while they concretely make use of something.

To make things easier, let’s take the example of an e-commerce website that sells shoes. To test such a website, then you may ask the users to try to buy a particular pair of shoes. By looking at their behaviour, where they click, how long it takes them to select the right product, and by listening to their comments, you can understand a lot about the website usability.

What is website usability?

As we’ve seen above, testing usability is vital not only for products but also for interfaces.

In the latest decades, usability gained popularity in the tech field. As more and more companies move their businesses online, having a usable website has become a primary necessity.

Through websites, companies can:

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Communicate directly with potential customers
  • Retain already existing customers
  • Sell online their products

Users can potentially choose between hundreds of websites with similar offers. The more an interface looks friendly and the easy to navigate, the more likely the user is going to stay on that website.

What’s more, with the spread of internet and mobile devices, companies have now the opportunity to reach individuals from all over the world. This means their websites have to be accessible regardless the languages, and cultures of different countries and regardless of the type of device used.

On one side websites need to be better than their competitors, on the other hand, websites need to be easy to use for a universal audience.

The goal of website usability is then to provide satisfaction by making it really easy for any user to learn new functionalities, understanding how to look for information and how to accomplish specific tasks on the website.

What renders a website “easy to use”? Web usability must take into consideration three super important aspects:

  • Easy content exploration: when users visit the pages they need to intuitively understand where they need to click.
  • Findability: when users are looking for any piece of information they should be able to quickly find it.

Automation: autofill features are nowadays vital for websites as they save a lot of time to end users.

How is usability measured?

Usability is measured by making users concretely try a product and then observing their behavior. This is called usability testing. How does it work? Users are faced with a scenario, they are asked to complete a task and answer a series of questions while observers watch and listen to them. Such tests can take place in laboratories, in selected places, or even in users’ homes.

Why should I do usability testing?

There are several reasons why you should do usability testing.

Just to name a few, let’s list here 6 usability goals:

  1. Measure users’ satisfaction with your interface
  2. Find out if users are able to use the interface and achieve their goals
  3. Discover the product’s possible weaknesses
  4. Discover what the users like the best about your website
  5. Receive useful feedback on how the product can be improved
  6. Implement the improvements and boost customer retention

What to do after website usability testing is complete?

Once usability testing is complete, there is only space for improvement! First of all, it’s always a good idea to outline a usability testing report. It can be useful having results all summed up in understandable graphs, also for internal communication.

It is then timeto implement suggestions and to modify those features which revealed to be faulty, do all is possible to render your interface easier to use.

Mind that, in most cases, you won’t need to completely rebuild or redesign your website. You will instead be able to reuse most of the features you already had set up. This process is also called “Reusability”.

Reusability

Most likely, when you’ll have to implement changes to your website, you will be able to reuse some of the assets already used when creating the website or app in the first place.The efforts you made in software development won’t then go to waste but will instead be transformed and with small changes reused on the interface.

 

Software reuse

Software reuse is a valuable resource. It allows you to save costs by reducing efforts on coding. This allows giving more space to creative tasks.

Furthermore, by using proven software instead of writing it again from scratch, you can reduce bugs easily. Recycling is good for two reasons: it reduces costs and boosts creativity.

Usability testing methods

Usability testing example for website

You may be wondering now how to concretely run usability tests on your website. We want to outline here a usability test plan example.

The typical usability test goes as follows:

  1. Participants are selected
  2. They are then given a task to complete
  3. Testers are asked to comment on their actions
  4. Finally, participants answer a series of usability testing interview questions
  5. Observers carefully watch their moves, listen to their comments and answers while taking notes

Usability testing methods for websites

There are a vast number of usability testing for websites methods, we will list here the most common ones:

  • Hallway usability testing: according to this method, random individuals  (as opposed to experts) are chosen to test a website.
  • Guerilla usability testing: it is a quick type of usability testing that takes place in common places like cafes, libraries, malls etc. Individuals are randomly chosen and asked to participate on the day, hence they are not formally recruited in advance.
  • Remote usability testing: this method gives participants the chance to try the website whenever they wish without any time or space restriction as observers do not need to be present at the time of the testing.

Here we selected a Guerilla testing performed by Google in a café. It gives precious insights and it lasts only three minutes:

Cases: Usability testing examples

As is always more intuitive to have a reality like example, we will try to present you here some usability testing scenarios examples.

A) Let’s use as a usability testing example for shoe e-commerce platform:

Scenario: you are currently looking for a new pair of shoes, you want to buy them on shoesecommerce.com

In this case, a typical task could be:

“go on shoesecommerce.com and buy the red Adidas Campus shoes, size 5”

B) Let’s try with a different example, a restaurant website:

Scenario: you are organizing a night out and you would love to book a table at the Italian restaurant Mamma.

Task:

“go on mammarestaurant.com and book a table for two on Wednesday the 15th of November.”

 

Usability testing questions

We want to give some space to usability testing interview questions. In order to give you a more concrete idea of what exactly you should ask your users. Keep in mind though that is also important to also just give the chance to participants to share their spontaneous thoughts and feedback, so always push them to share their thoughts out loud.

Website usability testing questions examples:

  • Were you able to find all the information you were looking for?
  • Is the website clear?
  • How can we improve our website?
  • Did you encounter any difficulties while browsing?
  • If you could change one feature, which one would it be?

Usability testing questions for mobile app:

Although websites and mobile apps have common features, we selected also some example questions for mobile apps usability testing:

  • Was everything readable on the app?
  • Were you able to find all the information you were looking for?
  • Was the app working fast enough according to you?
  • What difficulties did you find?
  • Did you find the way the app is structured too complex?

usabiity_girl_laptop

Free usability testing tools and cost

UserReport is a completely free tool that allows you to test and improve your website usability.
UserReport is based on two simple tools – a survey and a feedback forum. Running as an
integrated part of your website or app, it enables you to:

  • Test your users’ usability
  • Collect precious feedback
  • Learn how you can improve

You’ll discover UserReport is also a valid guide as its standard surveys can work as a usability testing questionnaire sample.

What’s more, UserReport offers a dashboard that works as a great usability testing report example: all the data collected from usability surveys are displayed with easy to understand graphs and infographics in real-time in UserReport dashboard. Making not only usability testing but also the next step easier.

FAQ

We have selected here some of the most common questions about usability, we hope you will find our answers insightful.

 

  • Is usability testing a functional testing?

    Functionality is not usability. Functional testing evaluates whether or not an interface does work correctly as it is supposed to and has nothing to do with the design or the ease of use.
    Let’s go back to our favorite example, the shoe e-commerce website. If we had to test functionality we would consider questions such as:

    Does the “buy now” button works? Does it bring users to their shopping cart?

    Usability testing is instead focused on the end-user, on how easily he was able to use the interface and if the design of the interface was friendly enough.
    Going back to the e-commerce shoes example, a typical question could be:
    Do users easily find the “buy now” button? Do they like being redirected to their shopping cart or would they prefer to stay on the same webpage instead?

     

  • What is the difference between accessibility and usability?

    Although they may be confused, accessibility and usability are two different things.
    Accessibility is an inclusive practice that has the ultimate goal to give equal access to information and functionality to all users, even people with disabilities. Usability focuses instead on how easy an interface is to use.

 

  • Is usability testing functional or nonfunctional?

    Usability testing is a NONfunctional testing as what it evaluates is nonfunctional. A website may work perfectly and pass the functionality test but then be considered not usable at all, as the design of it is counterintuitive for most users.

  • What is usability engineering?

    Usability engineering focuses on improving the usability of user interfaces. It is based on theories from computer science and psychology to define problems that occur during the use of such interfaces. Usability engineering is about the technicalities behind usability testing and improvements.

  • What is usability in ux?

    Often, usability is mistaken for UX, user experience; although the two terms are similar, their meaning is different and it’s important to be able to distinguish between them.

    User experience often referred to as UX, is made of all the interactions a user has with a product or service. It is the personal, internal experience customers go through when using a product. User experience specifically refers to interactions that take place on digital interfaces, most likely on screens.

    UX is both about the feelings, the emotions the user experiences while using the website, or the app but also what her perceptions regarding the ease of use (usability) and efficiency of the interface.

    It is now easy to understand that usability is then part of user experience.

Sources:

  • https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/usability
  • https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/
  • https://usabilitygeek.com/guerrilla-usability-testing-how-to/
  • https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/usability-testing.html
  • http://www.usabilityfirst.com/usability-methods/usability-testing/
  • https://uxplanet.org/why-is-it-important-to-do-usability-testing-5080a5640df3
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