A Complete Guide to Usability Testing

A Complete Guide to Usability Testing

May 11, 2022
 Rohith Ramesh Rohith Ramesh
Rohith Ramesh

Usability testing considers the user's point of view and answers the question, "Would the user be able to use the product I'm building effectively?" This testing takes a user-first approach and is thus vital to any development process.

Read: KPIs that affect user experience in the mobile games

Getting user perspective is essential because you need to know your target audience. According to a report, 46% of Americans spend nearly five to six hours on their smartphones each day. (Statista via Hubspot). With so much time on mobile devices, users have set expectations.

Usability testing helps you understand if you're meeting those expectations and what you need to change if you aren't. Here's everything you need to know about usability testing.

What Is Usability Testing?

Usability testing involves using real people to test your product. You assign these people a list of tasks on your product and observe their interaction. Usability testing aims to help you understand if your product's design is intuitive and usable to help users seamlessly accomplish tasks.

Test your apps on real devices and get accurate results. Learn more.

There are three categories of Usability testing, they are:

  • Explorative
  • Assessment
  • Comparative


Developers consider the explorative phase in the early stages of the testing process. The idea is that the earlier developers run usability testing in the process, the lesser the risk to the product. In this phase, developers consider the product's concepts related to service and its design.


The assessment phase describes the user's assessment of the product. It is an end-to-end test execution and analyzes the product's effectiveness and user satisfaction.

Also read: What is End to End Testing?


The comparative phase involves comparing two or more products of similar technology. Developers compare the product's design, disadvantages, advantages, features, working, and much more; this helps understand which product provides a better user experience. 

The reason they gather this data is to help developers improve their products. Their insights can help them identify the best practices and mistakes and use this information for their benefit. They can build a better product and improve their user experience.


Usability testing started in the 80s when personal computers were more prevalent. However, at that time, people had little to no exposure to computers, which meant adapting to the new technology was a long and arduous process. The only way programmers could ensure computers were intuitive and usable was to understand how users think and their approach to completing tasks. 

In 1981, Karl Ericsson and Herbert Simon popularized the "think aloud" method. The idea was that the participant would speak out about his thought process. A decade later, a more solid understanding of usability started to shape.

Usability meant that instead of guessing how people would use a product, you would let them use it, allowing you to observe them understand, learn, and complete tasks, making usability problem identification a real-time process. Today, as products have become advanced, usability testing plays a crucial role in making sure their intuitive and user friendly.

Also read: Contrast between UX and Usability

Benefits Of Usability Testing

Usability testing helps us connect with our users. The products we build are for the users, and while we may think that we're making it with them in mind, the fact is that each person is unique. We all have different ways of perceiving things based on our experiences, backgrounds, abilities, and preferences. These things contribute to approaching, understanding, and using a product. 

Developers working on website usability must focus on multiple things; this isn't an easy task and requires effort. It's easy to miss things when you're too close to them. Because developers focus more on ensuring the app or website is stable and performs its tasks well, they can miss out on usability. Hence, usability testing is essential.

Usability brings in a fresh perspective, one that the developer missed. This new point of view is crucial as it comes from the very users using your product. Their insight will highlight areas that need improvement and point out what you've done well. Additionally, usability testing helps with long-term success.

Users can give you a broader perspective on your product; you can build better designs knowing what pitfalls to avoid. While building a new product, you can embed these insights into your upcoming designs. This continuous process only helps you design better products for your users. (report on better UX).

When your users can complete a task efficiently, it adds value to the product. Usability testing can help you design your product effectively.

Read: Shifting to Automated Software Testing Amidst the Economic Downturn

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Usability testing can help improve product flaws and fix them before launch. It boosts the quality of the product.
  • Usability testing helps understand the user, thus improving the user experience.
  • Usability testing helps identify minor errors that the development team can fail to detect.
  • Since feedback is from the user, applying it can help improve the product for the larger target audience.


  • The only drawback to usability is the financial constraint of recruiting and managing resources.
Check: How cloud performance testing offers a cost advantage amidst the economic recession

What's The Difference Between User Testing and Usability Testing?

Usability testing and user testing both involve interacting with the user. What differentiates them is the purpose of interaction. 

User testing

Developers run user tests before usability tests. User testing aims to understand if users will need the product, tool, or service's in the future. Marketers can also run user tests to understand their users' needs and frustrations better.

Usability testing

Usability tests have no specific execution time, and if you miss running them, you lose out. Marketers can run usability tests at any stage of the development process. They can test wireframes or prototypes and even run usability tests for each product iteration. Running usability tests aims to check if users can navigate the product efficiently and review their usage.

Also check: Fundamentals of Test Harness

Methods Similar to Usability Testing

It is easy to think that usability testing gathers user opinions about a product or shows users the initial versions of your product to understand if they know how to use it. Unlike general research, usability testing is more purposeful. It is having users complete a specific list of tasks and observing them. The goal is to understand their interaction methods.

The other UX research methods that don't qualify as usability testing include: 

  • A/B testing helps check for improvement in performance by highlighting changes to the design. It cannot tell you why one version of the product is better, and the other is not.
  • Surveys can help gauge user experience, and developers can use them for usability testing. However, since you cannot observe users in real-time, it doesn't come under usability. 
  • Focus groups are all about gathering opinions about a product and not seeing how people use it. A moderator asks people their preferences, experiences, and behaviors on a specific topic during these sessions.
Also check: A Complete Guide to Digital Experience Monitoring

Usability Testing Methods

Here are the most common usability testing methods that you can use:

Hallway Testing

One of the most cost-efficient and effective methods, hallway testing, involves giving a few people chosen at random access to the product instead of trained professionals. The idea is that when people without prior knowledge of the product test, the results are more accurate and honest, and they test the product effectively.

Remote Usability Testing

Remote usability testing involves testing the product through people located at remote locations. They are located either in different countries or states and perform usability testing; feedback is recorded and submitted by the users. At times, developers run remote tests through video conferences. Remote usability tests are cost-effective when compared with other tests.

Check out: A complete guide to continuous testing

Expert Review

As the name suggests, an expert review involves hiring a technology expert to test the product and giving feedback that we can use to improve the product. Expert review testing is expensive. The reviewer can also choose to conduct the review remotely and submit the results of his review. 

Since an expert is conducting the review, this testing method takes less time. The more straightforward approach of the expert reviewer helps him find loopholes and flaws in the product much quicker. While organizations avoid this option because it is expensive, the results are reliable and thorough. 

However, if your product has critical features that need an expert's viewpoint, this approach is your best bet and is worth the expense. The feedback can help you ensure your product's essential features get a good reception from your target audience.

Read: Root Cause Analysis for Software Defects

Paper Prototype Testing

One of the most traditional approaches to usability testing, paper prototype testing, involves having a dry run of test execution, drawing prototypes and hand sketching.

This test aims to discuss the flow of the product by drawing it on paper and using this platform to consider all possible scenarios, outcomes, conditions, and inputs. This type of testing is best to eliminate primary issues in the product, and organizations observe it across all projects. Paper prototype testing helps put thoughts down in writing, assisting teams to have clarity on the execution process. 

The project team usually runs the paper prototype tests and brings the best results in the earlier stages of testing. It is a cheaper method of testing. It may not be the most effective as it does not have the user at its core. Additionally, it is also time-consuming, which can lead to negligence.

Automated Usability Testing

Developers run this test by writing automation scripts. Automation usability testing involves writing scripts for automation, triggering, and executing said test scripts. Once developers execute the tests, they record the results and submit them for analysis. 

To perform this test, organizations must hire a resource if they don't already have one who can build effective automation frameworks and write test scripts.

Jonathan Lipps, the project lead for the Appium Mobile Automation Platform and the Director, Automation Technologies at HeadSpin, is a key figure at HeadSpin University. He helps aspiring individuals who wish to learn automation through courses at the University. So, if you want to train your team in automation, you can get started here. Automated usability testing is cost-effective and gives excellent results as there is less chance for human error.

How Many Participants & Researchers Do You Need for Testing?

The number of users you get to test your product depends on the budget and complexity. Highly complex products with critical and crucial features will need more users to test. However, if your product is less complicated, you can reduce the number of users.

The number of participants ranges from 3 to 25, depending upon the complexity. Mostly, teams range from 5 to 10 members with one researcher and participants. The researcher (facilitator or moderator) observes the participants and their interactions with the product. He moderates and records the feedback on the tasks they perform.

Typically, there are three elements to this: 

  • Researcher
  • Participant
  • Task

Participants execute the assigned tasks. The researcher guides the participants when they perform their tasks. They have brainstorming sessions with the participants to help them understand the most effective way of testing the product. Once the results are in, the researcher checks to see their accuracy.

The researcher either hands out task sheets or explains verbally, or through video conference, instructions on the test. He can also ask questions to check if the participants are on track and can control the execution flow in case the participants deviate.

Get intelligent insights for accelerated product development, enhancement, and production monitoring. Learn more.

Different Phases of Usability Testing

It is best to start usability testing early on in the development process. There are 5 phases to ensure good usability testing:


The planning stage is where the organization defines the objective of its website usability testing project. It also completes the documentation of the project in this stage. This fundamental phase is where the organization establishes the project's road map and sets the testing process in place.

Organizations answer questions like, what should we test? What method should we use to test? What scenarios should we consider for testing? Answering these and similar questions helps prepare an effective plan.

Read: Strategies for choosing the right mobile devices for testing


As the name suggests, this phase is where the organization recruits the participants and the facilitator. Their number depends on how complex the project is and the budget the organization has.


The participants perform usability testing based on the requirements outlined by the organization. The facilitator moderates the participants to ensure they follow the parameters.

Also read: Batching Appium Commands Using Execute Driver Script to Speed Up Tests

Data Analysis

Once the usability test is complete and the facilitator submits the results, the concerned team analyzes the data, searching for patterns. They use the data to improve the product and improve business.


The reporting stage involves considering the feedback sent to the development teams after the test. This stage is where the discussion on areas that need improvement, and the implementation of these improvements happens.

Check out: How ReportPortal Helps Continuous Integration and Testing Processes

Factors To Consider for UX Testing

First and foremost, the earlier you test, the better it is to prevent risk, wastage of time, and save the project budget.

  1. Test early; test often. This method helps avoid wasting time, saves budget, and prevents risk. 
  2. Developers can handle areas that need improvement seamlessly if testing starts early.
  3. During earlier stages, ensure your team of users has a good idea of your product.
  4. Understanding the target audience is crucial for product development; this means understanding who they are, their needs, and whether your product satisfies them.
  5. Identify new ways of using your product that users might look to in the future.
  6. Have a sit down with your development team and understand areas of improvement.

Remember to consider the app's rate of response and performance after the mobile usability test.

Also check: Improving mobile user experience through SDK abstraction

Five Best Practices for Usability Testing

There are many aspects to consider while running usability tests. It can get difficult to remember what is essential with so much to do. Here are five of the best practices you can consider:

1. Ensure consent before you start the test

It is essential to get consent from your users while running usability tests. At the beginning of the test, it is necessary to get the user's consent to record the test and its results. Once you complete conducting the test, you will need their consent on if you can use the data from the test. Your users do not need to have a complete idea of what they are signing up for; hence, you must inform them.

2. Bring in a broader demographic

Ensure the people you get to participate in your usability test have different perspectives on your product. That means you need to include people from different demographics, market segments, usage behaviors, and abilities. When you intentionally bring in a broader demographic of users, you will build better products.

Each demographic will know what is best for their group and can point out specific inconsistencies within your product. Here, the aim is to help you widen your gaze and see things differently.

Test and monitor websites & apps with our vast real local devices across the world. Learn more.

3. Pilot testing is important

It's always an excellent option to run a pilot usability test with preferably another team in your organization. Doing this will help you solve issues you may have missed and ensure your product is ready for usability testing with your target audience. 

4. Ensure you set a criteria

It is essential to have set criteria for usability testing. Ask yourself what success means for your product. What are your exact goals, and what qualifies the result as a failure? When you have these outlined, you can run an effective usability test.

Empower DevOps & QA teams with test automation and data science insights. Know more.

5. Consider the length of the test

Consider the time you spend on each usability test. Not everyone can devote an entire day to checking your product for its usability. Therefore, the time you spend on your usability test needs to be enough for you to be confident with the result. If you're unsure of the time, run a pilot test first to give you a better idea. Remember, it is better for you to run multiple tests than one test that leaves the users exhausted. Asking too much from your users will only give you poor test results.

Learn how you can improve usability testing with HeadSpin.


According to Statista, almost 80% of users abandoned their online shopping orders in 2021. The reasons vary, but if this information is anything to go by, it highlights an essential truth - It is impossible to predict user behavior. The best we can do is prepare.

Usability testing helps you do just that. By running mobile app usability testing, letting users perform tasks on your app, and taking their feedback, you can build an app that will appeal to most of your target audience.


Q1. What are the principles of Usability Testing?


  • Usability testing deals with product development.
  • It involves observing users perform tasks on the product and collecting data on their experience.
  • It requires development teams to improve their product based on the feedback and set timelines to achieve those goals.

Q2. What must you consider while writing a usability testing report?


  • Prioritize writing about the aspects that need fixing.
  • Mention a plan with the next steps.
  • Write in clear and easy-to-understand language.
  • It should be well structured, giving your team a clear understanding of what went wrong and what needs fixing.

Q3. What is the best time to run usability tests?


It is best to conduct usability tests multiple times during different stages of the development process. Some of these stages include:

  • Before you make any significant decisions regarding the design.
  • When you're ready to launch the next iteration of your product.
  • After you launch the product.
  • When you have uncertainties with regards to the product's design.

A Complete Guide to Usability Testing

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