Our partners hire us to bring their ideas to life and design validation helps us make sure the end product meets expectations. One key means through which we validate our designs is the performing of usability tests, which is essentially the process through which we allow potential users to try out the product and share their thoughts. Such active involvement from potential end users in different stages of product development helps us keep the product user centred and not get ahead of ourselves. This, in turn, keeps the project’s velocity in check and helps us reduce the number of issues that might arise as the project is nearing its end.
What’s the difference between regular QA testing and usability testing?
QA testing is performed on different versions of a product to find bugs by testers who have a good amount of knowledge on the app and its functionalities. Usability testing, on the other hand, is more concerned with the design intuitiveness of the product and tested with users who have no prior exposure to it. Such testing is paramount to the success of an end product as a fully functioning app that creates confusion amongst its users will not last for long.
Why is usability testing important when developing a product?
1. It lets you avoid design changes that might draw users away from it – Remember Instagram’s horizontal scrolling, that was reversed in a few hours after the update?
2. It can help decide which idea is best when the team has many ideas on the table. Such testing is a great learning opportunity for the designers to learn on what works, what doesn’t and will shape the way in which they approach future design.
3. It highlights user expectations of functionalities and allows developers to create user-centric apps.
4. Iterative tests help pick the best options of wording, icons or fonts.
At what stage of a product should usability testing be done?
It is important to start usability tests in the early stages of the design process when it is easy to make changes. Another round of testing should then be done when the design is nearing completion as it will allow for the testing of a prototype similar to the end product. We also encourage our partners to conduct usability tests after the launch of an app as user interaction data from the end users is invaluable in improving an already great product.
The type of usability testing is dependent on many factors such as the project, its level of progress, costs and the resources that can be deployed for testing. What you need to know however is that most prototype usability testing is divided between low-fidelity and high-fidelity tests. Low-fidelity tests are helpful when testing ideas as the prototypes does not need to be fully developed. The prototypes for high-fidelity tests, on the other hand, needs to resemble the end product very closely and require more resources.
It is also wise to know what you are looking for through usability testing. Behavioural testing can provide quantitative measurements, such as the time between taps on an app or eye tracking. Attitudinal testing, on the other hand, is more concentrated on the needs and attitudes of users, and involve qualitative data collection via surveys and interviews.
What is the process for conducting such usability tests?
The first stage in conducting usability testing lies in deciding on the type of testing required and the measures through which success will be defined. A prototype with the functionalities you’d like to test therefore must be prepared, alongside a scenario of the behaviour expected of the participants. It’s also important to create a test environment that reflects the environment the end product will be used in.
The second stage is where you’d need to pick and invite a sample of the population your end product will be used by. Remember that the number and the quality of the sample should be a good representation of the end users. For example, designing a website for children requires the participation of children of different ages, due to the cognitive differences. Participants should also be reminded of how the test is to validate the designs and that no score is given for sticking to the scenario that was drawn up in stage one.
The third stage is where the data from stage two is analysed. The feedback gathered through this can reveal issues with something as specific as the order of buttons or give rise to a completely new functionality that would make the products user experience better.
To summarise, usability testing is pivotal to validating the designs made for software products. Not doing so can produce an app that looks and feels great in the eyes of the designers, but is found to be difficult to use by the most important stakeholder, its end users. Such apps with invalidated designs is a recipe for disaster as bad UX experiences can kill any app and damage your brand reputation. This experience will stain the trust your users have with the brand and impact the take up of any future software products as well.