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Guide to usability testing

A holistic guide to usability testing across the digital-driven industries

October 25, 2023
 Rohith Ramesh Rohith Ramesh
Rohith Ramesh

Ensuring seamless user experience across various platforms is of significant importance in this highly competitive, customer-centric era. Usability testing emerges as a critical component in this equation, offering invaluable insights by placing actual users at the center of the evaluation process. Whether it's the straightforward analysis of session recordings or the in-depth examination facilitated by advanced eye-tracking labs, the essence of usability testing remains consistent: to understand user behavior, reactions, and potential obstacles. By emphasizing real user interactions, developers and businesses can fine-tune their software offerings, ensuring not just functionality but an experience that is efficient, effective, and deeply resonant with user needs and expectations.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing refers to assessing how simple a design is to use by observing how users interact with a product. This enables researchers to spot design flaws and user engagement capabilities, like whether or not users enjoy the product and if they find it easy to use. 

While designing a product, usability testing allows researchers to assess a product's usability with larger amounts of data and find solutions to any issues that may arise. 

Usability testing can be performed at different stages to test each iteration of a product, from the initial development to its release. This helps researchers to address problems early on when they are more manageable.

Read: How to Optimize User Experience by Performing Mobile Usability Testing

Why should enterprises focus on usability testing?

● Saves significant time

Usability testing at the prototype stage is a game-changer. It's like reading a chapter of a book before publishing. By doing this, you pinpoint issues early, preventing costly post-launch fixes. It ensures that product managers, designers, and developers are all on the same page from day one, eliminating guesswork. It's not about working harder; it's about working smarter, which can lead to saving immense time overall.

● Helps validate features based on hard data

Launching a product often stems from preliminary research. However, even with preparation, expectations can sometimes misalign with actual user needs. A robust usability testing platform primarily helps substantiate your product strategy through concrete data and real-world feedback. Studies indicate that a significant percentage of developed software features see little to no use. To ensure efficient resource allocation, it's imperative to ascertain the genuine demand for the features you're designing. Usability testing provides the concrete data needed, facilitating informed decisions for product development trajectories.

● Reduces costs and improves savings

Usability testing is a strategic investment, delivering significant financial returns in software development. Early-stage testing identifies and resolves potential user issues, preventing expensive rectifications during later stages. The immediate benefit? Saving on development hours and reducing the need for rapid, last-minute corrections.

Proactive testing further enables teams to discern the most valued product features, aligning development focus with user preferences and business objectives. Using actual user feedback to guide development decisions minimizes risks of costly feature modifications in the future, ensuring a streamlined build process.

The scalability of a usability testing platform is noteworthy. Even with constrained budgets, a single round of tests with just five users can uncover most usability challenges.

● Helps ensure the product success before market entry

Usability testing serves as a pivotal step in gauging your product's real-world performance and potential acceptance. Through this process, you can validate initial assumptions about the product's utility and relevance to the user. It helps preemptively spot issues, averting costly post-launch fixes. Furthermore, the ease of use is directly proportional to adoption rates; a user-friendly product is likely to see higher acceptance. Simply put, if a product isn't intuitive or fails to address its intended problem, its market uptake will falter. With usability testing, you gain foresight into its anticipated market performance.

Also read: Why is Usability Crucial for a Good Gaming Experience?

Exploring different usability testing methods

1. Quantitative and qualitative approaches

The quantitative angle of usability testing zeroes in on hard numbers and stats—think metrics like the time a user spends on a particular task. This method leans on concrete data points to affirm design choices.

Conversely, qualitative testing is all about diving deep into the user's journey. It's less about the "how many" and more about the "why" behind user actions. By closely watching and listening to feedback, we gain a clearer understanding of user preferences and pain points.

2. The setting: Remote or face-to-face?

Remote Sessions: Modern and efficient, remote tests cut across geographical boundaries. Participants and testers connect virtually, making this method both practical and cost-effective.

In-Person Sessions: There's something about being in the same room. Face-to-face tests allow for a more intimate understanding, as we can pick up on subtle cues like body language, which sometimes communicate more than words. 

Check: Root Cause Analysis for Software Defects

3. 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.

4. 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.

What is NOT usability testing?

Usability testing holds a specific niche within the spectrum of UX research methods, and it's crucial to distinguish its unique role from other prevalent research strategies. Let's clarify what usability testing is not:

  • A/B testing: This method involves comparing two versions of a web page for determining which performs better. It mainly focuses on existing users, contrasting with usability testing that typically engages a representative target audience unfamiliar with the product.
  • Usability inspections: Unlike usability testing, which revolves around real users' interactions, usability inspections lean on expert evaluations. Techniques such as heuristic evaluations, cognitive walkthroughs, and pluralistic walkthroughs are employed by specialists to assess the product's usability.
  • Surveys: While surveys are instrumental in gathering user feedback, they lack the observational component inherent in usability tests. Surveys don't permit hands-on, direct interaction with the product under controlled scenarios, which is pivotal in usability testing.

By drawing these distinctions, we can ensure the right research approach is chosen for the intended purpose, maintaining the integrity and specificity of usability testing.

Also check: Contrast between UX and Usability

Different stages of usability testing

  • Planning: This phase focuses on defining the objectives of the usability test. During planning, clear goals are set, and questions like "What are we testing?" and "Which method will we use?" are answered to create a structured roadmap.
  • Recruiting: Participants for the test are selected in this phase. The number of participants and facilitators depends on the project's complexity and available budget.
  • Execution: Under the guidance of a facilitator, participants carry out the usability test, adhering to the pre-defined scenarios and parameters.
  • Data analysis: After testing concludes, the collected data is analyzed to identify patterns and areas for improvement.
  • Reporting: Feedback from the test is documented and shared with the development teams. This phase involves discussions on necessary improvements and the subsequent action steps.
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.

How can usability testing help your website?

What is website usability testing?

Website usability testing involves real users navigating through a website to assess its functionality, ease of use, and overall user experience, ensuring that the site meets its intended purpose effectively and efficiently.

Understanding the efficacy of your website's interface isn't merely about aesthetics or functionality in isolation; it's about how users interact with and experience it. Here's why web usability testing is indispensable at every stage:

  • Early engagement: Even in the prototype phase, testing provides invaluable insights. By gauging real-time user interactions, you can identify challenges and address them proactively, ensuring that foundational designs are robust.
  • Post-implementation review: After deployment, a revisit via usability testing ensures the platform behaves as intended. Is the user experience seamless? Does it resonate with the expected utility?
  • Simplifying complex processes: For intricate sequences, say, an online checkout process, usability testing ensures the procedure is intuitive, minimizing user friction.
  • Interpreting analytical data: There are times when quantitative data points out an anomaly, but the cause remains elusive. Usability testing often illuminates the reasons behind such patterns, offering context to raw numbers.
  • Attention to detail: Minor oversights, be it broken links or grammatical nuances, can be caught and corrected through meticulous usability testing. It serves as a final quality assurance checkpoint.
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.

How does HeadSpin help streamline usability testing for enterprises?

Leveraging deep ML models and robust real-device infrastructure, the HeadSpin Platform enables comprehensive testing of applications on real devices, ensuring an end-to-end assessment of performance. This specialized usability testing Platform provides a holistic view of app performance across various devices and networks, making it a powerful tool for effective user experience testing. Enterprises benefit from HeadSpin's dedication to enhancing digital user experiences through their cutting-edge Platform, which enables them to optimize their applications for optimal usability and performance.

● Capturing real time performance data 

With HeadSpin, you're not just observing user behaviors; you're getting a real-time stream of performance data. This data aids in discerning bottlenecks and ensuring that user interactions remain seamless and responsive, no matter the device or network.

● Actionable insights

HeadSpin's granular analytics help understand where users face challenges, and you can make focused enhancements to improve their journey. The in-depth ML algorithms help identify the root causes of the high-priority issues and provide insights into resolving them. With actionable AI-based testing insights into user interactions, teams can quickly identify and rectify usability glitches, ensuring a smoother experience for the end-users. 

● Testing on real devices

HeadSpin's global device infrastructure provides access to thousands of real SIM-enabled devices to test and monitor app performance and user experience. Testing and QA teams can connect to a wide array of real devices across 90+ locations worldwide, ensuring the application is tuned to a broad range of users with varied preferences.

Learn how you can improve usability testing with HeadSpin.


In the digital age we reside in, the user base can dilute in a blink of an eye. Regardless of what scale the enterprise is operating in, focusing on user-centricity through the deployment of an effective usability testing platform is critical, enabling businesses to remove any biases from the equation and obtain data-driven insights, which can be used to improve the user experience of products. An in-depth grasp of usability testing's facets empowers researchers to navigate the vast expanse of methodologies, ensuring that every digital interaction resonates with the user's expectations and desires.

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Q1. What are a few popular techniques for gathering data during usability testing?

Ans: Some widely employed techniques to gather data during usability testing include direct observation, think-aloud protocol, eye-tracking, time-on-task, and many others.

Q2. What distinguishes formative from summative usability testing?

Ans: Formative usability testing identifies design issues early on for iterative improvements using qualitative methods and smaller groups. Summative testing evaluates a near-final product against benchmarks with quantitative metrics and larger participant sets, focusing on validation.

A holistic guide to usability testing across the digital-driven industries

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