What is Usability Testing? Definition and a Review of the Best Methods

Kasia KowalskaJune 09, 20227 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 a lack of product-market fit. How can you make sure you don’t follow in their footsteps? By creating a usability testing report about your product.

What is usability testing? To put it simply, it’s the iterative process of gathering data on how your end-users interact with your product so that 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 types and benefits of usability testing as well as the different methods used to improve user experience.

Improve usability testing

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a form of examining how real users interact with a product, acting as test subjects when they operate it and complete tasks. Testing can be carried out on your website 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 adopted in order for your development team to improve ease-of-use in the design process. After all, you want it to be as simple and easy as possible for people to interact with and use your product.

Functional testing, from early on in the product development process to product release and beyond, can provide valuable user feedback 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 nail 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, real time using a product or interface?
  2. Efficiency. After users have handled your interface and design, how efficient are they when performing a series of tasks?
  3. Memorability. A lot like efficiency, in that the test participants have already used your design multiple times. But if they don’t use your design for weeks, months, or even years, can they return to high efficiency levels quickly?
  4. Errors or bugs. When users make mistakes, and people will 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 carrying out a usability study is so important in design.

The benefits of usability testing

There are a lot of different usability tests that you can perform, including remote, assessment, and comparative testing. But what is a usability evaluation good for and what benefits does it offer you?

Improved user experience

The 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 the user experience, and the result was 90% fewer support calls. Impressive, isn’t it?

Increased conversion

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

If you own a website, you can use conversions with your email marketing to increase the number of subscribers who sign up to your list.

Generating more revenue

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


Source: NextApp

Showing brand commitment to a great UX

Happy users lead to referrals, long-term income, and success. Brands that continually conduct usability testing show they’re committed to the real user experience they provide. A company can gain the trust of its users by showing dedication to improving the real customer journey that will be undertaken.

Learning about target users’ behavior and preferences

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

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What are the different types of usability testing?

We’ve talked a lot about usability testing, but it’s time to find out what the right type of testing for your business might be. The key types 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. This method 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 that involves going out conducting unmoderated testing with a large sample size of as many random people as possible. If you sell a powerful stain remover, as a usability testing example, you could go to cafes or stand on the street corner beta testing the product. You’ll gain valuable data on how different, real users interact with your product, the difficulties they face, and how best to improve it.
  3. Observational usability testing. A form of stealth evaluation that allows you to understand user behavior when you’re not present. The test participant is set up in a private location and allowed to use your product independently. You may use screen or video recording to observe their behavior, body language, and facial expressions. It’s important to intervene only if a participant is truly stuck and facing a problem.
  4. Eye-tracking studies. Users’ eye movements 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, so 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 that users face when tests are conducted in-person. A lot of remote testing methods can be used to gather data, but the most common forms are:

  1. Phone interviews. User interviews are an integral part of UX research, during which participants are asked questions by researchers. These one-on-one testing sessions provide valuable product feedback, allowing both the tester and researcher to ask questions.
  2. Digital card sorting . This is a simple and effective form of remote interface testing. When trying to improve or perfect your user experience, this method 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 representative users would adapt the information architecture and what form of organization works best for them.
  3. Session recordings. tools like LiveSession allow you to test ideas remotely and watch users as they traverse your interface. Each session recording lets you gain actionable insights and collect qualitative data. You’ll be able to find errors, hotspots, and areas where actual 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 operate 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

This method removes influence on the evaluator, allowing for an on-the-fly evaluation to see how users interact with your product. They 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 exploratory testing because each individual tester is given the freedom and responsibility to test your product or interface naturally.

Comparative testing

These are used to compare your product against two or more products. When performed properly, this type of test allows you to better understand your product’s strengths and weaknesses versus those of your competitors.

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

3. Assessment Testing

If you want to conduct a general usability test for your product, an assessment test is what you’ll want to perform. This type often comes after exploratory testing to determine how certain aspects of design impact usability.

During an assessment, the user is asked to complete specific, real 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, then tweak your product after testing to improve the design to cater for your target audience.


Now that you know what a usability testing report consists of, as well as how remote, in-person, comparative, and assessment testing all work, it’s time to collect the data that your company needs to improve your product.

By collecting data on your target audience, you’ll be able to modify the user experience, improve your results, and increase your end-users’ satisfaction. This, in turn, will allow you to create a successful physical or digital product that adds value and is enjoyable for its users.

All that’s left to say? Good luck on your usability testing endeavors!

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