Usability testing

Introduction to Usability Testing

Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it with representative users. In the test, these users will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and takes notes.

Your goal is to identify any usability problems, collect quantitative data  on participants’ performance (e.g., time on task, error rates), and determine participant’s satisfaction with the product.

When to Test

You should test early and test often. Usability testing lets the design and development teams identify problems before they get coded (i.e., “set in concrete). The earlier those problems are found and fixed, the less expensive the fixes are.

No Lab Needed

You DO NOT need a formal usability lab to do testing. You can do effective usability testing in any of these settings:

  • a fixed laboratory having two or three connected rooms outfitted with audio-visual equipment
  • a conference room, or the user’s home or work space, with portable recording equipment
  • a conference room, or the user’s home or work space, with no recording equipment, as long as someone is observing the user and taking notes
  • remotely, with the user in a different location

What You Learn

You will learn if participants are able to complete identified routine tasks successfully and how long it takes to do that. You will find out how satisfied participants are with your Web site. Overall, you will identify changes required to improve user performance. And you can match the performance to see if it meets your usability objectives.

Four Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Testing the Site NOT the Users

    We try hard to ensure that participants do not think that we are testing them. We help them understand that they are helping us test the prototype or Web site.

  2. Performance vs. Subjective Measures

    We measure both performance and subjective (preference) metrics. Performance measures include: success, time, errors, etc. Subjective measures include: user’s self reported satisfaction and comfort ratings.

    People’s performance and preference do not always match. Often users will perform poorly but their subjective ratings are very high. Conversely, they may perform well but subjective ratings are very low.

  3. Make Use of What You Learn

    Usability testing is not just a milestone to be checked off on the project schedule. The team must consider the findings, set priorities, and change the prototype or site based on what happened in the usability test.

  4. Find the Best Solution

    Most projects, including designing or revising Web sites, have to deal with constraints of time, budget, and resources. Balancing all those is one of the major challenges of most projects.


Cost depends on the size of the site, how much you need to test, how many different types of participants you anticipate having, and how formal you want the testing to be. Remember to budget for more than one usability test. Building usability into a Web site (or any product) is an iterative process.

Consider these elements in budgeting for usability testing:


You will need time to plan the usability test. It will take the usability specialist and the team time to get familiarized with the site and do dry runs with scenarios. Budget for the time it takes to test users and for analyzing the data, writing the report, and discussing the findings.

Recruiting Costs

Recruiting Costs: time of in-house person or payment to a recruiting firm. Developing a user database either in-house or firm recruiting becomes less time consuming and cheaper.  Also allow for the cost of paying or providing gifts for the participants.

Rental Costs

If you do not have equipment, you will have to budget for rental costs for the lab or other equipment.


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