Usability tests are a cornerstone of successful software businesses. By soliciting user feedback in the design stage, you can identify potential weaknesses and address them before the public sees them. Unfortunately, many usability tests are rendered ineffective by common mistakes made by interviewers that bias the results.
Let's look at seven techniques that you can use to get the most value out of your usability tests.
#1. Start with a Clear Plan
The best usability tests begin with a clear plan.
Start by defining specific objectives for the tests. For example, do you want to see if users can complete a task? Do you want to know how long it takes to complete a task? Or, do you want to identify stressful points during a specific workflow that could lead to abandonment? Specific objectives ensure that you get the results you want from the tests.
Next, you should prepare the scenarios and questions that you'll ask. Write down scenarios that users should complete rather than specific instructions. After all, the goal is to see how they naturally interact with a product—not how well they follow instructions! Finally, prioritize the tasks and tie each of them to one of the objectives you defined earlier.
#2. Encourage Criticism
Most people won't want to give you objective advice.
Begin each session by making it clear that you're open to criticism and that it won't hurt your feelings. When describing the product, use words like "the" and "this" rather than "my" or "our" to detach yourself. Again, the goal is for the user to provide honest feedback that can help improve the product—even if it's difficult to hear as a designer!
At the same time, when you do receive criticism, avoid the temptation to judge or correct users. Again, the goal is to understand how users use an application—not how you intended them to use it. When responding to criticism, watch your tone and body language to avoid subtle cues that could discourage honest feedback moving forward.
#3. Make Users Think Aloud
Thinking aloud doesn't come naturally, so you need to encourage it.
Make it clear that users cannot make any mistakes. You're like a therapist listening to their thoughts and problems without passing any judgment, not an instructor teaching them how to accomplish a task. Encourage them to express whatever is on their mind without worrying about how they sound or hurting your feelings in the process.
The key is making them think aloud. That way, you can get a better idea of what's in their head, and they can express their thoughts without reservation. For example, you might encourage them to think aloud by asking, "What's on your mind?" or "You look confused. Tell me what you're thinking." Like a therapist, you want them to open up to you.
#4. Avoid Providing Any Advice
Many users will inherently think they're taking a test.
It's common for users to ask for your advice, but giving them step-by-step instructions won't leave you with any valuable feedback. Rather than answering their question, try responding by saying, "If I weren't here, what would you do?" Answering a question with another question is a great way to dig deeper into their thought processes.
UserTesting’s Interface - Source: UserTesting
You can also use asynchronous usability tests to avoid the temptation to provide advice. While you can't ask follow-up questions in the moment, UserTesting and other platforms record experienced testers as they attempt to work through a scenario on their own. You can then review the recordings to see what happened along the way.
#5. Do More Than Listen
Non-verbal cues are just as important as words.
Albert Mehrabian, a body language researcher, found that 55% of communication is non-verbal, 38% is vocal, and 7% is words only. In particular, Mehrabian found that non-verbal communication was key to deciphering a person's attitude. Attitude can be a tremendous insight when conducting usability tests.
For example, if you notice a user is frustrated, you may want to ask, "Can you let me know how you're feeling right now?" If they say everything is fine, you may be able to dig deeper to disarm them. However, without interpreting non-verbal cues, you might never ask the question and assume that the user is okay when they’re actually frustrated.
#6. Test Early & Often
Usability tests should occur early and be an iterative process.
Usability tests are most valuable early in the design process when you can easily make changes. If you test too late, you may not be able to incorporate all of the feedback. Or, the cost of integrating the input may be too high if you've already done a lot of design work. As a result, it's best at the beginning of a development cycle.
Fortunately, you don't need a high-fidelity prototype to get value out of usability testing. Adobe XD and similar tools make it easy to build low-fidelity prototypes that function "good enough" for usability tests without the high upfront cost of design work. You can even connect different screens to jury-rig a realistic feeling application.
#7. Consider Remote Tools
Remote usability tests may be more accessible to some businesses.
Most remote usability testing platforms are asynchronous, meaning that you can assign scenarios and then focus on other things. You can then view recordings of the usability tests on your schedule, freeing up your time and enabling you to look for insights by watching sessions multiple times rather than relying on notes.
Some popular usability testing platforms include:
The Bottom Line
Usability tests are a critical part of any software business, but it's easy to make mistakes that invalidate their output. By keeping the five tips we've discussed in mind, you can avoid many pitfalls and maximize your value from usability testing to build better products.
If you need help with usability testing, Intent can help craft high-impact interviews that provide the insights you need. Contact us today!