When taking a more in-depth look at usability testing I began by looking at an excellent article from the Norman Nielson Group on the topic.
The article starts out by explaining what usability testing is and what the benefits are of including usability testing in UX research methodology. The definition provided is as follows:
“In a usability-testing session, a researcher (called a “facilitator” or a “moderator”) asks a participant to perform tasks, usually using one or more specific user interfaces. While the participant completes each task, the researcher observes the participant’s behaviour and listens for feedback.”
Usability testing is incredibly important with the primary aims of uncovering problems, discovering opportunities, and learning about users being at the bottom of each usability test session. It is incredibly difficult if not impossible for designers to create good user experiences without usability testing. This is because observational studies of real users interacting with a design are what should drive the iterative design process. A point that is strongly highlighted here is:
The only way to get UX design right is to test it.
As demonstrated in the above infographic the core elements of usability testing are the facilitator, the tasks and the participants.
The facilitator guides the participant through the process. It is important to note here that that the product is being tested not the participant. This is a distinguishment that should be made clear to the participant by the facilitator. The facilitator gives instructions, answers questions and asks follow up questions. It is important that the facilitator does not accidentally influence the participant’s behaviour.
It should also be noted that sometimes an observational team may be included to help with taking notes and observing outcomes. There are also instances where usability testing does not include a facilitator this is called remote unmoderated testing.
Tasks include activities that realistic to tasks that users would complete in real life. Tasks can be specific or open-ended. It is important to note that task wording is very important as even small errors can cause participants to misunderstand the task or influence the outcome (a phenomenon known as priming). Tasks can be delivered verbally or in written from.
Participants should accurately reflect the user base of a product. This can mean the participant is a user in real life or has a similar background to the target user group.
Think aloud method
The think around method is often used in usability testing. This method requires the user to narrate their actions and thoughts as they perform tasks. The aim of the think around method is to understand the participants’ behaviours, goals, thoughts, and motivations.
Some of the benefits of the Think Aloud Method include:
- It is cheap and requires no special equipment.
- It is robust and should provide reasonably good findings, even from a poorly run study.
- It is flexible and is a plausible approach to usability testing at any stage in the development process.
- It is convincing as it provides direct feedback from users about the product.
- It is easy to learn with the basics being teachable in a day
Some of the downsides are that is not a natural position for the user to find themselves in, participants are likely to filter their responses to appear smarter than implying saying what pops into their mind as it comes up and prompts and clarifying questions are usually necessary which can bias users behaviours.
In my opinion the positives far outway the negatives though I imagine there will be instances where the think around method is the best approach and on the basis of the project being worked there will be times when a different approach is required.
Jakob Nielsen on User Testing: Why & How
In the above video, Nielson outlines the importance of user testing in design projects as tech-savvy designers and software engineers are not the user. On top of this, you are too familiar with the product, this cannot be removed from your mind. You cannot have the experience of using the product for the first time, this is impossible. You, therefore, need to assess how a real user uses the product to assess how they can use the product and if it meets their needs.
Another point highlighted is the fact that user testing is very cheap. It can be done in a short period of time (a couple of days) with only 5 participants and is, therefore, a very feasible form of UX research.
User testing is also incredibly convincing. It literally presents the user of a product struggling to use that product which motivates required changes to be made.
When carrying out user tests it is vital that you use representative users otherwise your findings will not be valid. It is also important that you make tasks realistic. The participant needs to try to accomplish something, i.e. what the product is intended to do to produce meaningful data. And finally while running the test let the users talk and keep quiet. The user may be hard on your design however these are the findings that will improve your design and user interface.