What is user testing and usability testing ?

by | Mar 31, 2021 | Design Thinking & Testing

What exactly is user testing? 


User testing is exactly what you would think it is from looking at the name. It’s a process in which an app, website or really any kind of product or service gets individuals to navigate the interface in order to assess how accessible it is

It uses everyday people to see if the app, website, product or service is easy to use. It lets the creators know if it has an acceptable level of functionality, therefore informing them if it can be launched for public use. 

In order to get an accurate feel for how easy the app or website is to use, the test participants should be guided as little as possible. This lack of guidance will translate into an honest review of how easy it will be for regular people to use without any prior knowledge of the interface. 

What’s the difference between user testing and usability testing? 


There is some contention between the differences between user testing and usability testing in the UX world. 

Some people will argue that user testing is not actually the process of getting users to test the product but instead is the initial process of researching and asking around if people want or need the product and if they would use it. In this case, by default, usability testing becomes the question of whether or not the interface is easy to use.

However, others argue that user testing is a broad umbrella term that includes anything to do with testing by users. This therefore means that user testing can be used to also describe usability testing. 

For the sake of this discussion, we will be using the term user testing in the latter context; as something that includes both testing the ease of use and the user demand for the product.

What is the purpose of user testing?


User testing is an extremely important part of the process of evaluating a product. The main purpose is to assess whether or not the product is ready to be launched as it helps creators to evaluate if the app, website, product or service will be able to be easily used by normal people in everyday situations. 

It’s an integral part of the user journey as it also helps designers and creators to identify problems, specifically usability problems. For example, if there is a specific part of a website that cannot be reached, it negatively affects the user experience and subsequently causes a great deal of problems for the website itself. 

By carrying out this user research and continuous user testing, it allows problems to be identified and fixed in order to ensure the product is completely ready for launch day. You should always consider factoring user testing into your business plan. 

How does user testing work? 


In order to gain as many insights as possible into how accessible and easy to use your product is, you must establish a coherent and seamless system of user testing. 

There are companies available whose expertise are in user testing and have dedicated team members who can help you to develop your user testing process by equipping you with the necessary testing tools and advice. 

To help you visualize and fully understand the entirety of the process, we have put together a list of some of the key aspects to explain exactly how user testing works. 

1. Define a goal


Defining a goal is the first step of the user testing process and its importance must not be overlooked. By defining a goal, you know exactly what you’re working towards, which will allow you to easily assess whether or not you have achieved what you wanted to achieve. 

Although the ultimate goal is to have everything easy to use and as accessible as possible, there will be variations in your goal depending on the task at hand. For example, the goal you would define for a complete website redefine would be bigger and more extensive than the goal you would define for a singular new function. 

2. Prepare a prototype 


This is, of course, an integral stage. Without a prototype, there’s nothing to actually test. There are two main types of prototypes; lo-fidelity prototypes and hi-fidelity prototypes. 

Lo-fidelity prototypes are the ones created at the very beginning of the user test journey. It’s a very basic form of the final product that helps to assess customer experience based solely on the functionality of the website as it isn’t clouded by elaborate designs that could be distracting. 

Hi-fidelity prototypes are further down the design process and incorporate more elaborate designs that are intended for use on the final website. This is the point in which you can get feedback on both how easy the product is to use as well as feedback on the visual aesthetics of the platform. 

3. Write a test script


Once you’ve established the goals that you want to achieve and have developed at least one kind of prototype, you are now almost ready to actually start testing. However, you need to write the test before you can give it to anyone to complete. This is where the test script comes in. 

A test script helps create cohesion throughout your testing process and creates comparable results between test participants as they are all trying to do the same things within your platform. 

In order to create a test script, participants are generally given between 5 and 10 tasks. Each participant is given a list of these tasks in a logical sequential order along with a hypothesis to help them understand what they need to do. They will then simply work through the tasks and you can evaluate their performance and the performance of your products once all tests have been completed. 

4. Recruit participants 


Recruiting participants is the final step before you can carry out your tests. The recruitment process is not as easy as it may seem, as there is an art to not only enticing people to partake in your user test, but also to picking who will actually participate.

Recruitment participants should reflect your target market. If your product is aimed towards teen boys, you don’t really need to know if 80-year-old women can navigate it. However, you equally don’t only want to include teen boys in your testing process as you will get biased results. Striking a balance between a broad range of participants and including your target market is an art that is integral to master. 

Moreover, actually recruiting users for testing your website or product is tricky. You need to recruit people as close to the testing day as possible to ensure people actually turn up and don’t retract their commitment to your testing process. Also make sure to maintain an open and comprehensive line of communication so people know exactly what they are doing, where they are going and what they’re in for. 

1. Evaluation 


Once you’ve recruited the right people and written your tests, you can then carry out the actual test itself.  It’s advised that you do a test run before the actual test, but this should not be difficult. 

Once the tests have been carried out, the experts should instantly record their results in their own individual setting. They should then reconvene in order to compare and contrast their results. Doing everything as soon as possible will ensure nothing is forgotten or overlooked.

As is evident, there are a lot of steps involved in user testing, and it requires a lot of planning. However, don’t let the excessive process of user testing put you off, after all, it’s an unavoidable necessity in the production of your app, website, product or service. For your peace of mind, it’s best to seek out the help of professionals in user testing and UX design.  

What are the three main types of user testing?


Realistically, there are multiple ways in which you can carry out your user testing. Any way in which you can get feedback on the useability of your product or website will be a form of user testing. However, there are three main types of user testing which experts often rely upon to get the most accurate results.

1. A/B Testing 


The main aim of A/B testing is to learn as much about your customers as possible to identify and assess the kinds of things that they best respond to. It will also allow you to see what features of your website your customers are most likely to respond to and what aspects work for your target market. 


A/B testing is actually quite simple. You send out two different kinds of emails to a large cohort of potential customers. Both emails are different, leading your customers to different websites with different functionality features, but each person should only be emailed one of the versions of the website. You must keep all other variables the same, such as day and time of sending in order to ensure accurate results.


You then track your customer interactions on each website and assess which is the most popular and is the most easily navigated. 

2. Focus Group 


The second kind of user testing which is quite common is the traditional focus group. This is a qualitative research method and the concept itself is very easy to organize. 


Simply gather a cohort of people, usually ranging from about 8-10 participants. Give them your product or website. Let them explore it on their own terms. Then, finally, get direct feedback from them. This technique is as simple as asking, what did you think?


You then record all the feedback you are given and go on to make modifications based on what they had to say. 

3. Beta Testing 


Finally, we have beta testing. Beta testing is arguably the most exciting form of testing as it involves putting your unfinished website or app out into the world. 


Beta testing works by releasing what you believe is going to be the final version of your website without it having gone through the relevant in-house testing processes. You are simply releasing the untested version into the world to allow real everyday people to test it from the comfort of their own home. 


This method has many advantages. For example, you allow the website itself to establish its target market which will then inform any minor changes you might need to make to appeal to the true target audience, not your own projected target audience. It also allows you to identify user errors and get feedback. 

Benefits of user testing 


There are numerous benefits to user testing. Many experts would argue that you cannot confidently launch an app, website, product or service without carrying out a comprehensive user testing process. 


Leveraging the brains of those who have expertise in UX design helps ensure your products are perfectly crafted and easily accessible for your customers in order to ensure overall customer satisfaction. 


If you still need convincing, here’s a list of the top benefits of user testing:


  • Helps to increase sales. As your product has been thoroughly tested, it ensures it will be enjoyed by customers when it finally launches.  
  • Saves time. There is a common misconception that user testing elongates the entire design process. This is simply not true. User testing can run adjacent to other processes so it allows for constant assessment. 
  • Quickly fixes problems. User testing allows you to keep track of when things are not working, hence affording you the privilege of fixing it quickly.