Usability testing — more than just bug fixing!

Rebecca Cox
Jul 10, 2017 · 3 min read

Often the planning for usability testing can start with some pretty specific questions — like does feature X “work”, or “what are the pain points in our signup process”?

Using these initial questions as a starting point to explore what the deeper research needs are can help you to maximise the value from the usability testing process.

1. Step back and start from “why?”

Before getting into detail, take a step back and ask:

  • Who has asked for the usability testing, and why?
  • Are there other stakeholders who might also be interested in this testing?
  • How might the testing align to a broader business strategy or goal?

Investigating these issues, together with the initial questions you have been asked, will help you to trace where and how the testing can add value. In addition, you’ll have already started the conversations which need to take place in order for the results of the usability testing to have impact — it’ll be clear why the issues being tested are important and why action needs to happen.

2. Break down research goals into sections

Next, break down the research goals, looking at:

Topics or themes to be investigated, e.g.

  • Are website visitors able to find the content they need by navigating the website? By searching the website?
  • Does content provide the information users need to help them make purchasing decisions?

Audiences to be investigated, e.g.

  • Members of the public purchasing products for use at home
  • Business users purchasing products for professional use

The scope of what’s being investigated, e.g.

  • Content sections (maybe the focus is on bathroom products, but not kitchen products…)

Check back against your research goals — if the usability testing addresses the topics, themes, audiences and scope which you have just identified, will these goals be well met?

3. Craft the usability test questions

Now you can identify the types of usability testing that you will use and start drafting the questions you’ll use for the actual tests.

Writing test questions can be tricky — often you can’t ask directly for the information you want.

It’s a bit like doing some not-so-subtle sleuthing to find out what to buy someone for a gift — you’re probably not going to come out and say “what would you like for your birthday” if you want the present to be a surprise!

An example usability test question might be:

a) What it is we actually want to know, e.g. “Do people know to look under ‘Finishing and paint’ for drawer and cabinet linings?”

b) The question we’ll ask the test participant, e.g. “You’ve noticed that the insides of your bathroom cabinets have become moldy, so you have decided to clean and re-line them. What’s the price range for some good-quality lining paper?”

This type of question could be part of a usability test where the participant is using the website, or with online testing tools such as Treejack.

When writing questions where the aim is to test navigation, remember to:

  • Use terms that will make sense to the test participant
  • Avoid giving away the correct answer — don’t use words in your question which are also in the navigation path that the participant should choose
  • Optionally, provide a scenario to help engage the participant as if they were really doing the task.

Here’s another example, this time a question which investigates users’ content needs:

a) What we want to know: “We’re thinking about displaying teasers of the information from our DIY advice articles in product pages, but we’re not sure which snippets would be the most useful in helping our website visitors feel confident in their decision of what to purchase

b) The question we’ll ask the test participant: “You’ve noticed that the insides of your bathroom cabinets have become moldy. See if you can find a product option for fixing this yourself. What would you need to know before you would be 100% happy to purchase the product, and actually use it in your home?

4. Pulling it all together after the usability tests

Once your testing has been completed, you will then be able to collate the results, working up from the detail of the test tasks, to topics, themes, audiences and scope. And because your test questions were nicely aligned to big picture goals, the data and observations you have collected will be able to inform the next stage of thinking about how to best move towards those broader goals — as well as having identified any “usability bugs” in the product.

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