The Ultimate Guide to User Testing in 2021

By Lindsey Allard

User testing is a crucial component in designing, finalizing, and launching an excellent digital product. The primary aim of usability testing is to ensure a seamless user experience by identifying usability issues at any which stage of the product development cycle. 

User testing is done in a realistic setting, i.e., by monitoring how representative users interact with the product faced with objective circumstances. This way, developers can see exactly what works and what doesn’t.

The Benefits of User Testing

Variables that tend to influence the quality and validity of a usability test are plenty; typically, they vary along the lines of tight deadlines, budget, participants, poorly structured questions, shortages in staff, unclear criteria, and different testing environments. These facts can — and usually do — devalue the final results.

Nevertheless, the benefits of user testing stretch beyond testing functionality and usability. User testing helps you understand your audience, grasp the use cases of your product, and build a solid product or service.

To set up a valid usability test, you need to understand the user testing process. With that in mind, we give you a step-by-step guide to user testing in 2021:

Step 1: Outline and Set Up Testing Objectives

Setting clear user testing goals is the first step to quality testing. The purpose of your testing should be entirely up to you, i.e., correlate to your product/service. 

NOTE: Nothing in user testing is about winging it, so don’t even try it. Usability testing grounds itself on a lot of research, planning and preparation. So, put together a solid test plan.

Some of the most tested segments are:

  • Time for task: Time needed for your user to complete the task. Is the task too easy or too challenging to complete? How much time does it take – too little or too much? 
  • Task completion: User’s ability to complete the task. What’s making it hard for the user to complete the task? How far into the task completion can users get?
  • Error detection: The number of errors (if any) users experience. When and where did the errors occur? Was it possible to avoid these errors or not? Was the user able to recover from the setback?
  • Flow efficiency: Users’ ability to navigate through the product. Did users find any part of the user flow confusing? How efficient is the flow you have envisioned? Is it necessary to add/remove any steps?

…or something else, entirely. If you identify your testing objectives in advance and maintain consistency – you should be good to go – regardless of the segments you test.

Step 2: Decide on a Testing Method

Once you have set up your testing objective, decide on an adequate user testing method. 

Some of the most common testing methods are:

  • Unmoderated and moderated testing. Testing conducted with participants absent (unmoderated) and testing done with participants present on site, via Skype, etc. (moderated). 

While in unmoderated testing the participants, in a way, moderate themselves and conduct their testing independently, moderated testing requires that participants are given test-guidance. 

  • Remote user testing. Often conducted in a natural setting (e.g., at home or work) is a cost-effective technique and can be moderated or unmoderated.
  • A/B testing. Testing conducted on the users deciding which of the two versions, i.e., two alternatives of a digital product they were given, perform better. To get accurate results, this method requires more participants than others and usually graphic design software to create variations of the pages you’re testing.
  • Card-sorting. Participants arrange content cards into a dendrogram that makes the most sense to them.
  • Eye movement tracking. This method utilizes eye-tracking software that traces where users’ eyes go when interacting with your product.
  • Individual in-depth interviews. A trained test moderator conducts this method with the help of a prepared script and task scenarios. It takes the longest to complete.

A few things to consider before you decide on a testing method and begin testing:

  • Your product’s current development stage in the product development cycle; some testing methods are better done on a finished product while others work better when used early on.
  • Things like resources, budget, and testing facilities. Weigh these factors before choosing a testing method.

Step 3: Target Representative Users

Establish clear selection criteria before you start recruiting users to sit through testing. Only test people who match your target user profile.

Generally, user testing is successful with 3–5 users. Segment test participants per criteria, like:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Profession
  • Education
  • Income
  • Technical competence
  • Other attributes specific to your product

To get the best results, choose people who are not familiar with your product. This is to avoid contaminating the reliability of the final results, such as preconceived ideas about your product or false flattery over constructive criticism. So, avoid recruiting immediate family members, friends, fellow employees. 

In addition, ensure the following:

  • Have an experienced facilitator guide the test and see to it that everything runs smoothly.
  • Make sure there are several observers to take notes during the test.
  • When asking personal questions, make sure your screening questions are inclusive and don’t cross the confidentiality line.

Step 4: Design Task Scenarios

For a successful user testing process, the way you ask users to complete tasks is vital. The idea behind the process isn’t for you to reveal the exact actions users should take and direct them to the finish line; instead, it is to give them enough information to independently and intuitively complete the journey.

Think of your task scenarios as a mathematical equation: the users must find the correct formula to solve a problem. Also, do not provide too many instructions as that can often ruin the purpose of the test. The vaguer, the better.

Bad task scenario example:

Go to the search bar, type in “sweatshirt”, select size 6, click the ‘add to cart’ button and continue to the checkout.

Why it is bad: You didn’t leave much room for the user to figure out the user flow on their own. Thus, you can’t be sure the user would achieve the same results without specific instructions.

Good task scenario example:

Explore the website and buy a sweatshirt in your size using the credit card number provided.

Why it is good: You have given the user enough information on what you want them to do but haven’t revealed too much.

TIP: When formulating task scenarios, incorporate:

  • Open-ended questions, as they are terrific for observing users freely interact with a product without guided interruption.
  • Goal-specific tasks, as they are effective in testing particular features. 

When used correctly, both are extremely valuable in user testing.

Step 5: Use Scripts to Replicate the Testing Environment

Throughout user testing, keep things consistent for all participants and all iterations of the test. Replicate everything you say and do, including when and how you say and do something. While this may seem a bit too much, it serves a great purpose – this is the only way you can be 100% sure your results are accurate.

Scripts also play a treasured role in user testing – they eliminate the chances of inconsistencies arising during testing. 

Interestingly, it is generally the human factor that prompts inconsistencies to happen. 

For instance, the facilitator might emphasize specific parts of a task to one participant and something entirely else to another. Or they may forget to disclose some details about the testing process to one group and mention it to the other. All of this can easily lead to an inconsistent testing environment.

So, use scripts to ensure consistency throughout the testing.

Step 6: Study the Findings

The moment everything has been leading to – gathering the results and making sense of them.

Share and summarize your findings, i.e., key issues the users uncovered, hypotheses approved/denied, etc., with your team. 

Following this, work with your design and development team to prioritize issues, find possible solutions, and decide on the best course of action to enhance the user experience.

User Testing Can, Actually, Be Fun

Although it does take up a lot of pre-planning and careful performing, user testing can be fun and easy if you approach it cleverly.

Follow the above-listed six steps for user testing, improve user experience, increase retention rates, and see your ROI skyrocket. Good luck and happy testing!

About the Author

Lindsey Allard is the CEO of PlaybookUX, a video-based user feedback software. After seeing how time consuming and expensive gathering feedback was, Lindsey made it her goal to create a solution to streamline the user feedback process.

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