Usability Testing

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is a technique to evaluate how easy or difficult users find a company’s product. It can also be used to gauge the intuitiveness or user-friendliness of other aspects of the customer experience, such as navigating a website or completing a trial download. This type of testing is most commonly used to evaluate the usability of the software.

Organizations run usability tests by asking participants to perform specific tasks within their product and monitor how those participants proceed. By observing how users interact with a product without step-by-step guidance, the organization’s product designers can identify points of friction or confusion.

What Does Usability Testing Actually Test?

Product teams can run usability tests to gain many types of data about their products. But most teams use these tests to learn the following:

  • Ease of use: Is the solution straightforward, self-explanatory, and easy to learn?
  • Efficiency: Are users able to complete each task with a minimum amount of time or clicks?
  • User-friendliness: When a user has trouble figuring out the next action or where to find a feature, does the system offer real-time help? And is this form of assistance itself easy to locate and use?

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What Metrics Should Product Teams Use in Their Usability Testing?

Usability testing typically involves a two-step process.

  1. The company’s product team observes participants interacting with its product, then speaks with them afterward, and records all of this data.
  2. The team interprets the data based on several metrics, which can be both quantitative and qualitative.

Examples of usability testing metrics include the following:

  • The percentage of the users that were able to complete a given task.
  • The percentage of users who encountered errors in the product.
  • The percentage of users who encountered a specific error in the product.
  • The average time it took for users to complete a given task.
  • The average number of screens, clicks, or other steps it took users to complete a task.
  • The average score users gave to questions about the product’s ease of use, levels of frustration with task completion, or other factors.

How Do You Conduct Usability Testing?

A useful usability test requires only a small group of participants. According to tech educators at, their research indicates just five users will uncover 80% of a product’s usability problems.

For an overview of the steps involved in implementing a usability test, here is a suggested breakdown from a research paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. According to that paper, running a usability test involves five stages:

7 Steps to Usability Testing Graphic

1. Planning the usability test

This stage should output a document describing the test’s goals and methodology, how the team will choose participants, what the working procedure will be, the types of data the team wants to collect, and the like.

2. Recruiting participants

This stage includes deciding who your ideal participants will be, developing a detailed recruiting questionnaire, and determining a plan of action to begin seeking and evaluating participants.

3. Preparing test materials

Test materials prep helps you to decide what actions you’ll want participants to take within your product, and the types of outcome you’re working toward. Then you will need to design the test environment (which could be remote or in-person at your offices).

4. Setting up the test environment

For this stage, you will need to design the actual environment where you will be conducting your tests. Usability test methods include lab testing (in-person at your offices) and remote testing (where participants can log in to your test from anywhere). You will need to choose which type of test makes sense for your team’s goals and needs.

5. Conducting the test

Here you will run your usability test with your participants. One tip offered in the IEEE paper is to conduct dry-run tests beforehand with your team. Dry-run tests are a good way to learn ahead of time if there will be any problems in collecting and recording data. It is also an opportunity to uncover any issues with your product before your participants do.

Here are two additional usability testing steps:

6. Analyzing the data

Here your team will study all data gathered from your usability test to glean critical insights and actionable intelligence on how to improve your product’s usability.

7. Reporting the results

Finally, you will share your usability tests’ findings with relevant stakeholders across your team, to earn buy-in to proceed with your suggested improvements.

Why do Product Managers Need to Conduct Usability Testing?

One of the product manager’s responsibilities is to develop products in ways that are welcoming and intuitive to customers. But users do not always behave or process information the way product managers think they will or should.

With these two factors in mind, it makes sense for a product team to employ usability testing on its products before releasing them broadly to the market. Only by observing how real users will interact with your product—without being told how to do so—can your product team know for sure if your product is intuitive and user-friendly. You’ll also learn whether it is going to cause frustration and negative experiences for your customers.
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