What is usability testing? Definition and a review of the best methods

Kasia KowalskaJune 09, 20207 min

Creating a product that resonates with its end-users is crucial to a company’s success. In fact, 42% of startups fail due to the lack of product-market fit. How can you make sure you don’t follow in their steps? By conducting usability testing of your product. What is usability testing? To put it simply, it’s the process of gathering data on how your end-user interacts with your product, so you can understand its strengths, weaknesses, and sticking points. In the following article, we’re going to cover several usability topics and methods, including the benefits of usability testing, types of usability testing, and the different methods used to improve user experience.

Improve usability testing

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a form of examining how users interact with a product. Users act as test subjects when they interact with it and complete tasks. Testing can be done on your website’s navigation, on an app’s user interface, and even on physical products.

Usability testing

Depending on the design, users will interact differently with various products.

When we say “usability” this also refers to the methods that can be used to improve ease-of-use in the design process.

After all, you want it to be as simple and easy as possible for users to interact and use your product.

Testing, from early in the product development to product release and beyond, can provide valuable insights and data to improve your current product, when possible, or to inspire future product iterations.

Usability definition – what do we mean by ‘usability’?

If you want to drill down the usability definition even further, these five quality components by Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group can help:

  1. Learnability. How easy is it for users to complete basic tasks the first time using a product or interface?
  2. Efficiency. After your users have used your interface and design, how efficient can they be when performing tasks?
  3. Memorability. Memorability is a lot like efficiency in that users have already used your design multiple times. But if they haven’t used your design for weeks, months or even years, can they return to high efficiency quickly?
  4. Errors or bugs. When users make errors, and they always do, can they recover from them? Also, how many errors can be considered “severe?”
  5. Satisfaction. Did users find your design pleasant to use?

Now that you know what usability testing is and how usability works, it’s time to learn why usability is so important in design.

The benefits of usability testing

There are a lot of usability tests that you can perform, including remote usability testing, explorative testing, assessment testing, and comparative testing.

But what is usability testing good for and what benefits does it offer you?

Improved user experience

User experience can enhance satisfaction, reduce customer service issues, and increase the longevity of product usage.

And if you’re thinking big businesses don’t test usability, you’re wrong.

Apple tweaked their Mac’s UI to improve user experience, and the result was 90% fewer support calls. Impressive, isn’t it?

Increased conversion

Conversions are actions that you want users to take. Perhaps you want the user to purchase a pro version of your app – proper usability testing can increase the number of such actions

If you own a website, you may use conversions with your email marketing to improve the number of subscribers to your list.

Generating more revenue

Revenue keeps businesses afloat. Single usability issues can lead to massive revenue loss. A bank in Australia found one key issue in their app’s design that, when fixed, led to a potential 600% increase in revenue generation for mobile loan applications.


Source: NextApp

Showing brand commitment to great UX

Happy users lead to referrals, long-term income, and success. Brands that continue usability testing show that they’re committed to their user experience. A company can gain the trust of their users by showing their dedication to their customer’s experience.

Learning about the target user’s behavior and preferences

Big data is everywhere (your smartphone is likely collecting your data right now), and you can collect data during testing. When you conduct any type of usability testing, you’re gathering data on the user’s behavior and preferences.

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What are the types of usability testing?

We’ve talked a lot about usability testing, but it’s time to find out what the right testing for your business may be. The key types of testing are:

1. In-person vs remote usability testing

In-person and remote usability testing allow the creation of products that are robust, user-friendly and ready for market. Your product type and what you’re testing will dictate which form is best suited to your product.

You wouldn’t evaluate an app’s interface the same way you would test a vacuum – right?

That’s why a mix of testing methods are chosen when refining your product.

In-person usability testing methods:

  1. Lab testing: A lab setting allows for a controlled environment where the person tested can be assessed based on the target market characteristics. Lab testing helps identify problems based on specific parameters, allows for quantitative data collection, confirms user challenges, and evaluates new prototypes. Testing can be performed in-house or in a third-party facility.
  2. Guerilla testing: A powerful method, guerilla testing involves going out and testing with as many random people as possible. If you had a powerful stain remover, you could go to cafes or stand on the street corner guerilla testing the product. You’ll gain valuable data on how different, random users interact with your product, the difficulties they face and how best to improve it.
  3. Observational usability testing: A form of stealth evaluation, observational testing allows you to understand user behavior when you’re not there. The test participant is set up in a quiet location and allowed to use your product. You may use screen recording or video recording to observe their behavior. It’s important to only intervene when a participant is truly stuck and facing a problem.
  4. Eye-tracking: Users’ eye positions can tell you a lot about your interface. Eye-tracking allows you to measure a person’s eye movement on a web page or app. You'll be able to see what parts of the interface get the most focus and which parts are overlooked.

Remote usability testing methods:

Remote usability alleviates the stress and anxiety users face when tests are conducted in-person. A lot of remote methods can be used to gather data, but the most common forms are:

  1. Phone interview: User interviews are an integral part of UX research, where participants are asked questions by researchers. These one-on-one sessions provide valuable feedback on a product and allow both the tester and researcher to ask questions.
  2. Digital card sorting: Card sorting is a form of remote interface testing that’s simple and effective. When trying to improve or perfect your user experience, digital card sorting works well. Users are given digital cards that are organized in a way that makes sense for them. Through sorting you’re able to determine how users would adapt the information architecture and what form of organization works best for the user.
  3. Session recordings: Screen recording tools like LiveSession allow you to test ideas remotely and watch users as they traverse your interface. Recordings let you gain valuable insights and collect qualitative data. You’ll be able to find errors, hotspots, or areas where users struggle with your interface.
Session recordings - LiveSession

Source: LiveSession

2. Exploratory testing vs comparative testing

Explorative and comparative testing methods provide insights into how users utilize your product naturally and how it compares to the competition.

Let's take a deeper look into these forms of usability testing methods:

Exploratory testing

Exploratory testing removes influence on the evaluator, allowing for an on-the-fly evaluation to see how users interact with your product. Users may be asked to write down notes before the test, but the main goal is to explore your product freely.

Agile models rely heavily on explorative testing because each individual tester is given the freedom and responsibility of testing your product or interface naturally.

Comparative testing

Comparative tests are used to compare your product against two or more products. When performed properly, the test allows you to better understand your product strengths and weaknesses versus your competitors.

You can further use comparative testing to generate new ideas, features, and functions for your product.

3. Assessment Testing

When you want to conduct a general usability test for your product, an assessment test is what you’ll want to perform. These tests often come after exploratory testing to determine how certain aspects of design impact usability.

During an assessment, the user is asked to complete specific tasks and may even speak aloud when performing them to give insights into their actions.

You’ll want to run an assessment test in the early and midway phase of product development. Tweak your product after testing to improve your design to cater to your audience.


Now that you know what usability testing is, how remote usability testing, in-person, comparative, and assessment testing work, it’s time to collect the data your company needs to improve your product! By collecting user data, you’ll be able to modify the user experience, enhance results, and improve your end-users’ satisfaction. This, in turn, will allow you to create a successful product that adds value and is enjoyable to its users.All that’s left to say? Good luck on your usability testing endeavours!

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