A quick guide to usability testing

Even if you’re a small and scrappy startup or a billion dollar company, usability testing is helping you evaluate your product based on feedback from real users, with little or no resources. It’s the easiest way to spot problems early on or to validate ideas before going to production.

In this small article I’m going to cover the basic aspects of usability testing, from recruitment to analysing results.

How it’s done

Depending on the type of test you’re doing, the number of users can vary, but Nielsen Norman Group identified that 5 is the ideal for the maximum benefit-cost ratio. That being said, it’s important to test the feature in each stage, from early concept to final prototype, as every small change can affect the user’s behaviour.

Step 1: Prototype

Don’t worry, it requires no coding. Actually, coding the feature is not ideal, as the purpose of the session is to understand how/if users are engaging with the feature. There are awesome tools like Marvel that can help you quickly create interactive prototypes, just by importing your Sketch or Photoshop file.

Step 2: Recruitment

  • Personal details: Name, language, profession, age, gender, hobbies.
  • Tech experience: iPhone user / Likes to try new products, etc
  • Behaviour: Buys something online every week.
  • Exclusion criteria: Does not work in Sales
  • Approval to be filmed. This is important, as the last step is to analyse the results.

See who ticks all the boxes, schedule an hour with each one of them and you’re ready for the next step.

Step 3: Session

  1. Preparation: Set up the room to create a safe environment and make sure there are no distractions. Don’t forget to record the whole session (prototype and user) so that you can analyse the video at a later stage. You can also invite stakeholders to watch the session from a different room, helping you by taking notes.
  2. Introduction script: It’s really important for users to feel comfortable, same as in their natural environment. State that the sole purpose of the session is to see how real people would use the feature, encouraging them to think out loud.
  3. Questionnaire: Before the session kicks off you might want to get a better understanding of the user’s context or opinions regarding a certain aspect. This can easily be done with a simple, non formal questionnaire, disguised as a conversation.
  4. Task: Most of the times a session starts by giving users a detailed task and observing their behaviour. At times you might have to guide the user in the right direction if the conversation slips. Don’t forget to observe verbal cues as well as non-verbal ones (facial expressions, posture, etc). It is estimated that 80% of what we communicate comes from these signals.

And now… time for the next step.

Step 4: Analysing results

Now create a stakeholders deck, add the summary, testing, results and recommendations, and you’re all set to go. Of course, analysing the results is no piece of cake, but every researcher has their own way of dealing with it, so the results depend on your level of expertise and (why not?) patience.

I hope you find this helpful.


I’m Dan, Product Designer living and working in sunny London. If you enjoy what you’re reading don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m also on Twitter.

Principal Product Designer at Fresha.com. Previously led design at Farfetch, Just Eat & GetYourGuide. Slightly dyslexic.

Principal Product Designer at Fresha.com. Previously led design at Farfetch, Just Eat & GetYourGuide. Slightly dyslexic.