Usability Testing: Best Practices

Streamlining your design process and identifying what your potential users really value are both invaluable to launching new software products. Conducting a carefully orchestrated usability test can really help you improve the customer experience (CX). Testing gives you the opportunity to address design issues before completing the development phase.

A usability test puts users in front of you as they try out your software. You see them interact with the software to identify what is working as well as to spot any problems. In this post, we put together a brief guide to conducting successful usability tests!

Planning Phase

Before conducting usability testing, you first need to have a specific goal in mind. What do you want to discover from testing? A goal for most software companies is to discover how to improve conversion rates: what product features and design will give you the best market success.

Another common goal is to find out what makes a quality product. Observing users in action helps identify where the application contributes as well as creates barriers to the overall customer experience (CX).

Once you have a goal in mind, plan how you can achieve that goal. Here are some questions to answer when planning a successful usability test.

#1 What do you want to find out about your software?

The main objective of any usability test is to determine if your product does what it should do. A good application should solve a problem and deliver value in a way that’s intuitive for people who use it.

For example, in the social media scheduling software segment, Edgar added a feature that allows saving Twitter and Facebook posts in order to repost them later (a feature most other software products in the same segment don’t offer). This feature offers users something unexpected but very valuable, and it adds to the overall CX.

Make a list of the features you want feedback on to narrow the scope of your test.

#2 Determine your typical user and recruit a few for testing?

The best usability testers are those who will potentially use your product. You can find potential users at a business or school that would use your software.Ask the organization you are targeting for a short list of people who might be willing to participate.

Contacting people directly to test your product will yield better results than placing an advertisement.

When selecting your testing pool, screen candidates to find a range of people who are able to explain their testing experience fairly clearly.

Once you have a group of 6–9 participants, be sure to offer a valuable incentive. A great non-monetary incentive is to tell each person that he or she is co-creator of your product. Explain what your goals are and that he or she is an expert at showing you how to improve.

Offering monetary gifts gives the impression you will pay them to use your product when instead you are marketing to them.

#3 How will you set up the testing?

The best software tests are practical for both you and the product tester. The following can help the test to run smoothly

  • Select 6–9 participants (9 participants can reveal 95% of potential problems)
  • Limit testing to a half hour (this will keep tester attention)
  • Be flexible in scheduling (work around the participants’ schedules)

Getting your Information

The testing part of your usability test can really be fun if you plan carefully. Be sure to prepare before administering the test and gather the necessary data.

#1 Select a few tasks for testers to complete

Make a list of 5–10 tasks, depending on the length of time it takes to execute them. Most tasks should be typical tasks with a few added in that are critical to the functioning of the software.

Software should work quickly and respond to input in expected ways. Users should be able to complete common tasks with no additional instruction.

#2 Carefully present the test to your users

Part of how people understand a usability test is in the way it is presented. One way to think about software testing is though you are there to help, you will not be in each user’s office showing them how to use the product.

If something is hard to figure out, it is a problem that should be noted and addressed in the problem-solving phase.

In addition, the person conducting the test should speak positively so the participant is more likely to give open feedback.

#3 Monitor as tasks are completed

The most thorough approach to software testing is to monitor participants during the test. Take notes on the following:

  • How fast it takes to complete various tasks
  • How successful participants are at completing each task
  • Verbal or bodily signs about how they feel during the testing (this offers good information about the user experience(UX))

Determine the Positives, Fix the Problems

When you have finished the testing, the notes need to be transferred into spreadsheets to be usable. A helpful way to make the data more useful is to make scales from 1–5 on speed, performance, accuracy, appearance etc… Then rank the data accordingly.

#1 What worked well?

For many software designers, it is easy to pick out problems with the functionality. But first you should identify the what works well in the design. Then instead of putting out fires, you are making the great features even better. Include positive CX in your data.

#2 How do users feel about your product?

A major element of good UX is to understand not only software functionality but how users experience your software and your company. The product should be attractive to use and your company trustworthy.

For example, the application Trello organizes projects but is designed like a colorful design portfolio. Instead of a calendar with due dates, the user gets to create, stack, and paste cards across their personalized screens. Users enjoy using this software.

#3 How can you replace problems with better solutions?

Spotting problems and listing them does not give you solutions. Creative approaches to problem solving can make your software even better. Usability testing can lower the overall cost of production because you can discover any difficulties before it goes to market.


Any usability test needs to be well planned to be successful. Plan your test carefully in advance, conduct it, then gather the results . Your problem-solving phase will be shaped by the results of the testing which will potentially improve conversion rates and lower acquisition costs.

Originally published at Betaloop.

Technology enthusiast, product designer, entrepreneur, world traveler, patron of the arts, student of life...

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