Usability Testing for Beginners

You have a great product, but how do you know that it’s actually great? To vet your product from your user’s perspective, you should use a method of testing known as usability testing

Usability testing allows you to evaluate the functionality of your digital product (whether it’s an app, a website, or some other piece of software). You’ll do it with real users — not just your team of developers who already know the product inside and out. Instead, you’ll use people who don’t know anything at all about your product. By assigning these users tasks to do inside of your product, you can then observe their behavior and get a clearer picture of how usable it truly is. In other words, you’ll see if your target users will first be able to intuitively understand how your product works and second be able to use it effectively to meet their objectives.

While usability testing seems like a complicated topic, it’s actually pretty simple to do. However, if you want to get the most out of usability testing, there are a few strategies you should follow. In this guide, we’ll discuss what you need to know to get started with usability testing.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is the method of testing the design and functionality of your website. When you open your product to testing, you give your users a chance to share their true opinion. This can help you decide if the product needs to be tweaked or if you need to clarify your instructions for future users.

There are several types of usability tests you can conduct:


In an unmoderated test, the user completes a series of tasks alone. This is one of the quickest, easiest, and cheapest testing methods. It allows you to collect a lot of data in a relatively short amount of time. You can use remote testing software to conduct these tests with a sample group of users.


In a moderated test, there’s someone to guide and control the session. In this type of test, you can interact in real-time with your users, whether in person or remotely. Because you can observe their actions and talk through their thought processes, you’re able to get a better understanding of why they make certain choices. This can cut down on the guesswork that you’ll be faced with when attempting to interpret unmoderated tests.

However, moderated and unmoderated tests can both be used effectively to gather the data you’re after. Unmoderated tests are better used for uncomplicated tasks that can be completed in a short amount of time. If it only takes a few steps to complete, it may be better to opt for an unmoderated test. 

However, if you need to test a complicated product or process, a moderated session will likely yield better results. When compared to unmoderated, moderated tests tend to be longer sessions with fewer participants. And because you need to have a live moderator present during the tests, these sessions are also more expensive to run. 

Under moderated testing, the three main types of options you can choose from are as follows:

  1. Phone or Video Interview – In a phone or video interview, a moderator listens in or watches as the user carries out a series of directed tasks. The moderator may take notes and ask questions in addition to providing instructions on how to complete a task. These interviews are usually recorded for later analysis. 
  1. Guerrilla Style – In this type of test, participants are chosen randomly from a public location, such as a mall. Users can then participate on-site. The moderator will lead the user through a series of quick tasks. The goal of guerrilla testing is to get a lot of data quickly and from a large cross-section of potential users. But one of the biggest drawbacks to this type of testing is that your participants may not be representative of your target users. Guerrilla testing is best suited for products that will be used by many different types of users.
  1. Lab – In this type of test, participants come to a testing lab to perform tasks. The moderator will observe the user as they carry out tasks, and will sit next to the user or observe them from a camera or from behind a one-way mirror. 


We’ve already touched on in-person and remote testing before, but let’s discuss more about it here.

Remote testing is any type of testing that occurs when the participant is located in a different place. You can do remote testing with both moderated and unmoderated sessions. The advantages of remote testing are:

  • Affordability – These tests can be conducted without needing to pay for the user’s transportation to an in-person location
  • Availability – You can source users from around the globe to take part in your tests, making it more representative of your true user audience
  • Flexibility – Remote tests are unusually unmoderated too, meaning that your participants can choose their own time to test which is very convenient 

Of course, remote tests have disadvantages, too. One of the biggest disadvantages is that you’ll lack control over the test environment. A remote participant may experience technical challenges due to their own hardware and that may reflect poorly on your testing, even though it’s not actually a problem with your software.

Remote testing requires just as much effort as in-person testing. The main difference between the two is that you’ll spend a lot more time in preparation for a remote test, ensuring that the software is accessible to your test group. Remote testing requires both planning and guidance to ensure that your users understand what you want them to do.  

Usability Testing for Beginners

In-Person Testing

With in-person testing, you need a moderator or researcher to be physically present. This person will not only guide the tests but will observe the responses to the test. This may include asking questions, recording answers, and logging feedback. 

A moderator may also observe other information outside of data, such as body language, physical behavior, and facial expressions. If you want your moderator to check for all of these additional information points, you’ll need a moderator who is specifically trained in human analysis. This may be outside of the scope of your testing needs (or budget). 

Having a physical moderator will provide more benefits than simply logging data and guiding the participant through the study. Your moderator can interact with the test participants and ask questions to understand more about their thought processes at the moment. It’s easier for users to answer direct questions than to blindly narrate their experience with your product. You’ll likely get more useful feedback when you’re actively curating it through your live moderators. 

Usability Testing Best Practices

No matter what type of user testing you conduct, the following tips will help you discover the data that you need to know.

Identify Your Ideal Participants

One of the drawbacks of guerrilla testing is that you’ll pick users at random to participate in your tests. However, if you want to get the most out of your research, it’s essential that you identify who will provide you with the best answers. Consider targeting users who have a specific pain point or who identify with a target demographic. 

Narrow Your Number of Participants

You may think that you need dozens, if not hundreds, of participants to provide a usable amount of feedback. But the truth is that you only need a handful of participants to truly understand how useful and intuitive your product is. A handful is five to 10 participants. If you’ve qualified them based on their pain point or some other identifier that you believe will be useful to your study, then you’ll know that their feedback will be enough to help you uncover the problems. 

Keep the Test Simple

Instead of testing users on the full list of features within your product, keep it focused on one or two main features. This way, you won’t overwhelm the user with too many tasks at once. You’ll get cleaner feedback when the user doesn’t feel confused or overloaded with a lot of tasks.

Remember that you can always test other features at a later date, either with the same group of participants or with a new round of test subjects. 

Usability Testing for Beginners

Create a Script

If you’re running a moderated test, you need a script to ensure that you hit all of the goals you have in mind for the test. A script will also ensure that you provide the same set of instructions to each participant in your testing.

Your script should start with an introduction where you explain the purpose of the tests and set expectations for the participants. Also, create a script for task instructions so that the user knows exactly what you want them to do. Finally, you can script out your answers to anticipated questions that your user may have. Once again, this will help you streamline the testing process amongst all participants and ensure a similar, controlled experience.

Ask Both Types of Questions

There are open-ended and close-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow participants to share answers that they form on their own. Close-ended questions are direct and usually result in one-word answers, such as “yes” or “no.” 

Both open-ended and close-ended questions have their place in usability testing. You can get a lot of quick information from close-ended answers, and you can use open-ended answers to explore different ideas that you may not have otherwise.

In either case, consider starting off with the easy questions first. Then, easy into the more complicated and open-ended questions after the participant has had a chance to warm up.

Ask Your Participants to Share Their Thoughts

In addition to asking direct questions, you should also ask your participants to explain their thought processes while performing each task. This will help you see through the eyes of your users. It may also open up additional questions that you hadn’t considered yet.

Here’s a list of additional usability testing best practices to follow.

Final Thoughts

To be frank, users are always testing your product, but it’s better to conduct tests with a controlled group of users than allowing canceling and complaints to become your guiding light.

The benefits of usability testing are undeniable. When you commit to user testing, you get valuable feedback from your actual target users. This can enable you to improve your product moving forward, ensuring that you’re matching your user’s needs and expectations. 

Usability testing can also help you understand if your product is actually landing the way that you thought it would with your users. A process that may be dead simple to you can be complicated and frustrating for your users. And one of the best ways to discover trouble zones and inefficiencies in your product is by user testing. 

Use the above tips to guide your usability testing strategy.

Don’t forget to download this list of usability testing best practices.

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