'Usability testing. Practical guideline. Part One' post illustration

Usability testing. Practical guideline. Part One


The primary purpose of any commercial website is to effectively sale services or products. That is where the user experience design which includes various usability solutions comes into focus. This article considers key concepts of the user experience and usability and answers the basic questions:

Introduction to the usability and user experience

“What people seek is not the meaning of life, but the experience of being alive.”- Joseph Campbell

The phrase by Joseph Campbell most precisely shows the whole meaning of purchasing products today: wares are bought not only to satisfy user needs, but also to give a new experience and impressions which, in the end, determine whether the customer will stay with a company or not.

The user experience is a relatively new word in IT, most people still do not understand the whole meaning of the UX and use this term in the sense of the user-centered design (UCD), or the usability, or even graphical user interface (GUI).

One of the first definitions of the UX was proposed by L. Alben, who claimed that UX covers: “all the aspects of how people use an interactive product: the way it feels in their hands, how well they understand how it works, how they feel about it while they are using it, how well it serves their purposes, how well it fits into the context in which they are using it, and how well it contributes to the quality of their lives”.

Following L. Alben, other authors offer their own explanations of UX through different aspects of the interaction between the user and the product. The most interesting and valuable definitions are listed below:

  • “The entire set of effects that is elicited by the interaction between the user and the product, including the degree to which all our senses are gratified (aesthetic experience), the meanings we attach to the product (experience of meaning), and the feelings and emotions that are elicited (emotional experience).” - Hekkert, P.
  • “Encompasses all aspects of a digital product that users experience directly-and perceive, learn, and use-including its form, behavior, and content. Learnability, usability, usefulness, and aesthetic appeal are key factors in users’ experience of a product.” - UXmatters.com
  • “The user experience is the totality of end-users’ perceptions as they interact with a product or service. These perceptions include effectiveness (how good is the result?), efficiency (how fast or cheap is it?), emotional satisfaction (how good does it feel?), and the quality of the relationship with the entity that created the product or service (what expectations does it create for subsequent interactions?).” - Kuniavsky, M.

These definitions show that UX is the process aimed at increasing the quality of interaction between the user and the product by improving usability, accessibility, ease of use, and pleasure of having the product.

A high level of UX can be achieved by using the user-focused approach to design and development. This user-centered method is a philosophy where user needs are in the focus at all stages of the product development lifecycle. As a result, products created with the use of the UCD methodology are optimized for user purposes, allow to quickly and efficiently attain established goals, and have a high level of usability.

What is the usability? In conformity with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), usability is defined as effectiveness (accuracy and completeness with which user can reach the objective), efficiency (resources expended in relation to the effectiveness) and satisfaction (comfort and acceptability of a product) of achieving specific goals.

The main quality components of the usability are the following:

  • Usefulness indicates the degree in which products allow users to accomplish their goals
  • Efficiency - the speed with which user objective can be completely achieved
  • Effectiveness - the qualitative indicator which shows whether a product acts as it is expected and if it is easy for users to carry out basic tasks.
  • Satisfaction refers to emotional components and shows how much users are pleased with products or services
  • Accessibility - a subset of usability that provides a broad range of requirements, standards, and methods for improving the web for users with disabilities.

The mentioned above information shows that usability is described in the user gratification as a UX, but despite this fact, usability is merely a component of the user experience which covers a much larger area.

Benefits of usability improvements

Minor usability improvements in the process of product development allow a supplier not only to get the significant returns on investments (ROI), but also to provide much more benefits to existing users or potential customers.


1) increased comfort of use (product is more intuitive, customers make less errors)
2) increased trust to the product
3) increased customer satisfaction


1) reduced development time and costs (less iterations and revisions)
2) decreased support costs because of the fewer customer service calls
3) increased savings gained from making early changes in the design lifecycle
4) increased number of visitors and sales

In this video, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, (the chief of the UX strategy, Human Factors International) demonstrates how the user-centered design leads to the significant return on investment (ROI).

Here are a few real-life examples of organization benefits:

Reduced costs

  • Development costs and time - improving the usability and UX of the project allowed earlier changes in the development lifecycle and reduced the time spent on refining by a quarter. (Human Factors International Inc.:)

Increased Revenue

  • Product sales - the usability-engineered software product of Wixon & Jones increased the revenue by more than 80%, in contrast to the first release produced without using the usability techniques. (Randolph G. Bias, Deborah J. Mayhew, article "Cost-Justifying Usability")
  • Size of audience - usability changes made to HomePortfolio.com increased the traffic to the website up to 129% a week. (Interaction Design, Inc.)

Introduction to usability testing

As it was mentioned above, a high level of UX can be achieved by using a user-focused approach in the product design and development. This approach comprises a wide range of different practices, methods, and techniques used at different stages of a product development lifecycle:

Ethnographic research. This technique uses different methods of anthropology investigation, for example, observing users in environment where they use a product. This method allows to gather information about user goals, tasks and expectations. Collected data, different user behavior models and thought-out test-scenarios can help to correct product requirements.

Cooperative design. This method implies direct involving of stakeholder representatives in a product design process. The advantage of this method is that the direct involvement helps to create the clearest product picture that corresponds with user goals and tasks the best. The main drawback of this technique is that the involved user can spoil critical thinking of the team. A reasonable option here is to make short time meetings, where the design team will work with stakeholders only on a certain aspects of the product.

Focus groups. Focus groups are commonly employed in order to identify how acceptable the design, feature, or product are as a whole, what moments are misleading and unsatisfactory to users, how these problems may be fixed in order to satisfy user goals.

Surveys. They are used to get a comprehensive picture of the preferences of a great number of users (not a focus group) about an existing product or service. The polls do not give in-depth answers that explain how to create the product, but survey results may still help to improve the product in accordance with user needs and preferences.

Walk-through testing. This type of testing is used to explore how the end-user (which follows explicit guidelines) interacts with the product or service. The main purpose of walk-though testing is to reveal all the difficulties at each and every step of user interaction and to improve the effectiveness of user efforts on the basis of testing outcomes.

Paper prototyping and card sorting. Both of these techniques allow to express any concept, feature, or aspect of a product on a paper, thus making it possible to get early feedback from stakeholders. The analysis of results of paper prototyping as well as card sorting helps to effectively position navigation elements and simplify an interaction with the product.

Expert evaluation. This method presumes involving of an usability specialist or an user experience expert who have an independent viewpoint and does not participate in project design. The specialist should have at least basic knowledge of product area to give a more precise assessment.

Usability testing. This technique uses a wide range of methods that gather empirical data in order to improve convenience and ease of product use. Testing can be conditionally divided into two approaches:

  • direct participation of users that perform realistic tasks
  • iterative cycle of tests that identifies and eliminates usability drawbacks

Types of usability testing

The most beneficial method here is to associate the types of tests with product development lifecycle, this method is suitable for usability testing within short deadlines and limited resources, and allows to perform only the necessary tests at each lifecycle stage:

Exploratory test. The primary objective of exploratory test is to determine the efficiency of a design concept, create a basic structure of the project, and eliminate wrong assumptions. The tests of this type are usually conducted at the preparatory stages and provide answers to general questions:

  • does the product allow users to achieve their goals?
  • how easily and quickly can users navigate through the interface?
  • does the workflow correspond to user expectations?
  • which features are the most important for users?
  • what the user should know to use the product?
  • etc.

The exploratory testing implies the direct interaction between the user, the product and the moderator who gathers information about the design concept. The participant in such tests performs simple tasks, responds to general questions and expresses an independent opinion (drawbacks, advantages, preferences, expectations).

Unlike the Evaluation and Validation tests, where the main purpose is to get quantitative characteristics of how easy and fast user can perform tasks, exploratory test is focused on the examination of high-level concepts in order to create the final design which can satisfy user goals and needs.

Evaluation test. The assessment tests are the simplest usability tests that are performed at early stages of the product lifecycle when high-level design has already been defined. Their aim is to expand collected data of exploratory testing by evaluating the usability of low-level operations (how easily the user can perform particular tasks) and by identifying specific disadvantages of usability.

The process of evaluation test conducting is a little different from the process of performing the exploratory tests:

  • users always carry outs only particular tasks
  • communication between the user and the moderator is minimized
  • results are evaluated quantitatively

Validation test. In contrast to exploratory and assessment tests, verification tests are conducted closer to a product release. The main objectives of this test type are:

  • to evaluate the correspondence of the product with the predetermined usability standard
  • to verify that usability solutions discovered earlier have been applied in the appropriate way
  • to evaluate how all the components, examined individually, work as a whole

As for launching the verification tests, they are conducted in a similar way as evaluation tests, but there are several differences:

  • the validation test is based on a strict test sequence
  • any interaction between the participant and the moderator is excluded
  • standards for the task (expected results) should be identified prior to the test

The second part of the article will explain how to properly conduct usability tests and what rules, principles, and recommendations to follow.

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