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Five Steps to Conducting a Successful Usability Test

Today, most companies understand the importance of good design. In fact, A Design Management Institute report on the real value of design shows design-centric companies producing 228% higher returns on investment when compared with companies in the S&P Index.

Companies know that in order to develop a successful product, they must develop a successful user interface, so they must hire designers. Graphic and user interface designs, however, do not always have a user research and user testing background; and companies often overlook the importance of research and testing, assuming that professional design is all that really matters.

This is a huge mistake! Designers receive business objectives and start creating their designs from those objectives. If these designs are not validated with real users, how can we know that they succeed at meeting these business objectives, and that they are as intuitive as possible?

Usability testing obtains valuable design feedback from real users in the least amount of time as possible.

Usability tests identify usability issues and help improve design. This process should be done early and often to catch any issues as early as possible. One article on states, “…for every dollar spent to resolve a problem during a product design, $10 would be spent on the same problem during development and $100 or more if the problem had to be solved after the product’s release. It is far less expensive to prevent a problem occurring in the first place than to fix it later.”

Setting up and conducting a usability test is simple, and it can really be done by anyone.

Below are the five main steps you can take in order to conduct a successful usability test at your company.

1. Write up your tasks

Work with the product owner and designer to come up with tasks for your usability test. Tasks should reflect the most common and important use cases. Word tasks in an appropriate way to read or present to participants. Perhaps write up a small script you can read to your participant to give him or her a little background or some sort of story.

Here are some examples of tasks:

  • “Interpret this screen. What first catches your eye?”
  • “Where would you go to view the application settings?”
  • “Submit the form.”


2. Decide on your method.

You should not wait to do a usability test until the product is built. Start testing with product designs as early as possible and do it as often as possible! You can even test a designer’s sketch on a piece of paper or whiteboard. Paper prototypes are a great, quick tool, and users have fun with them. You can also create a more involved prototype using tools such as Marvel or Adobe XD.


3. Select participants.

Figure out the best, most realistic participants. You want participants to be as close to the real user as possible (if you cannot get the real user). Start with three to five participants. An effective way to validate a design is to test it with a couple of users, make changes to the design based on those results, and then test the updated design with a couple more users, etc. You can recruit participants within your company, or even go to the local Starbucks and tell customers you’ll buy them a coffee if they participate in a quick study.


4. Conduct the tests.

Here’s the fun part. Seek out some quiet space with minimal distractions to conduct your tests. During the test, make sure that participants follow your tasks, and that it doesn’t lead to a feedback session; you care about task completion (can the user do the task or not?), not what color the user wishes the button would be. Take notes or invite someone to help you take notes if you’re moving paper around or manipulating screens.


5. Compile your results.

Immediately after you conduct your usability tests, begin compiling your notes and summarizing your findings. Work with the product owner and designer to decide what to change in the design based on the usability test results. In my reports, I include stats, a screenshot of the design highlighting the issue, and my recommendation(s). Here’s a snippet from one of my reports:

Results report screenshot


Usability testing can be easy to set up and conduct. Do it early and often in the design process.

Even if you test a design one time with one user, it is better than getting no feedback at all. Make an effort to test your designs, even if you or the designer feels that the designs are perfect.

I hope this helps you to conduct usability tests at your company.


About the author

As a UX Designer and Lead Test Analyst, Marina Miaoulis ensures that every design has been validated prior to development; she creates and runs usability studies on current and upcoming product pieces so as to verify optimal usability. Marina has cemented usability testing as a necessary component of product building at Pegasystems.