After spending significant amounts of time, money and creative energy on the design of your website, application or other product, how do you know if it will meet the expectations of prospective users? Will it be intuitive for them to navigate and use? Will it be use easy for them to maximize the use of all the features available? These are just some of the questions that may be answered through usability or user experience testing.

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Usability testing investigates the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with products, systems or interfaces. Several factors or dimensions constitute this user experience. These include:

  • Intuitive design – is it easy to understand the architecture and design?
  • Ease of learning – how easy it is for a new user to learn to complete basic tasks?
  • Efficiency – how quickly can a habitual user execute various actions?
  • Memorability – can a user remember how to use it later?
  • Incidence of errors – how often do users make mistakes, and is it easy to make corrections?
  • User satisfaction – does the user like using it?

The adage “test early and often” is especially true for usability testing. It should be an iterative process.

How to Choose UX Testers

Correctly selecting testers is a critical element of usability testing. Test participants should belong to your target market. If they don’t, you run the risk of making the wrong changes to a product’s interface.

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Use a Screening Process

Screen prospective participants with a qualifying questionnaire to ensure they are members of your target market. You may want to ask about weekly Internet usage, frequency of interacting with social networking sites or the use of specific mobile phone features, for example.

This will help you assess potential participants’ level of technical ability. Linking technical behaviors to your target market profile will help ensure that you design your application for the right user population.

Once you’ve identified qualified members of your target market, choose a mix of new and experienced customers as well as non-users to do the testing.

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New Customers

Newer customers will remember learning your product recently, and they can indicate if the new design makes it easier or more difficult to use. They already understand what your product is supposed to do, but they may still have challenges using some of your tools. They will provide information about which of your tools is least intuitive.

Experienced Customers

Existing customers will give you insight on how the current design may be improved to facilitate their activities, and whether the new version is better or worse than the old design. They will be familiar with the limitations of the tool you offer, and may have innovative ideas about what would make it better. Learning about their pain points and workarounds will help you identify areas that require redevelopment.

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Someone who has never used your product or service will provide critical feedback on how easy or difficult it is to learn your product or interface. Watching someone use your product for the first time will help you gain insight into usability issues that might otherwise be difficult to identify, and will highlight the level of clarity in your UI.

A Small Sample Size

Design testing is an iterative process. A huge sample is not required. A sample of anywhere from three to eight respondents for each round should be enough to help you understand the problems and patterns of usage.

Communicate Clearly with Testers

OPT Blog Image - UX developers testing their design.

Whether your testers are new, experienced, or non-users, remember to tell them at the beginning of the process that you are testing the software, not their competency at using it. Failure to do so may result in frustrated participants who feel inadequate and embarrassed if they can’t figure something out.

Let your testers explore the product without your interruption, and be careful not to guide them unnecessarily. Let them experiment with the interface and try to break flows.

Having the right participants in your usability test is pivotal for delivering insights that help you successfully evolve your design. An optimal design maximizes the benefits to your customers and may meaningfully differentiate your product from your competitors.

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Having trouble locating people to test your design? Check out our guide to finding UX testers.