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7 Tips to Getting More Value Out of Usability Testing

by Greg Cargopoulos

7 Tips to Getting More Value Out of Usability Testing

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 they reach a larger audience. 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.

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#1. Start with a Clear Plan

Start by defining specific objectives for the tests. For example, do you want to check if users can complete a task? Maybe you'd like to know how long it takes them to do that? 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, and not how well they follow a step-by-step guide.

Finally, prioritize the tasks and tie each of them to one of the objectives you defined earlier.

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#2. Encourage Criticism

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 make it more impersonal. Again, the goal is to get 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. Your objective 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.

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#3. Make Users Think Out Loud

Imagine yourself as a therapist listening to users' thoughts and problems without passing any judgment, rather than an instructor teaching how to accomplish a task. Encourage them to express whatever is on their mind without worrying about how they sound or that they might hurt your feelings in the process.

The key is making them think out loud. That way, you can get a better idea of what they're honestly thinking, and they can express their opinions without reservation.

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#4. Avoid Providing Any Advice

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.

You can also use asynchronous usability tests to avoid the temptation to provide advice. While you can't ask follow-up questions at that 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.

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#5. Do More Than Just 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.

If you notice a user is frustrated, you'll be able to ask about what they're feeling at the moment. Without interpreting non-verbal cues, you might never ask the right question and assume that the user is okay when they’re actually irritated.

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#6. Test Early & Often

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 are just 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.

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#7. Consider Remote Tools

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:

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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 the value from usability testing to build better products.

If you need help with usability testing, Intent can help you craft high-impact interviews that provide the insights you need. Contact us today!


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