A Basic Guide on How to Prepare your Next Usability Session

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Conducting an usability session can be intimidating, especially for a designer just getting into UX. Even well versed designers can have a hard time conducting usability tests as much effort needs to be put into them in order to gain valuable information and use it in your design process.

Here a few tips which may help designers prep for their usability sessions before conducting one.

Secondary Research

Once you come up with what you want to do research your on or if you want to interview customers of your product, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how you plan on using that information. This could be connecting it to solving a potential problem or validating assumptions. The more research you have, the more knowledge you gain and the more focused your research becomes in order to pinpoint a core user problem.

Doing secondary research can also apply to learning how to use tools to moderate your session (i.e Usertesting, Morae, Webex, etc.) or understanding your potential participant better.

Make a Plan

Every usability study you conduct needs to have a plan. With a plan, you get more relevant and comparable insights in which you can synthesize easier and more efficiently instead of having to go through every usability study (via notes or video), get information from there and synthesize it with a whole range of other insights which may or may not be similar. Consistency in research is important because this allows you to keep track of how many people are saying similar things and being able to see trends of the way users behave about certain things. With consistency, you are able to find relevant problems users may be facing without having to do extra work of finding key information without structure.

A good research plans also allows you to have a solid understanding of what your research is about, why you are doing it and what you aim to get out of the study. With every usability study you conduct, create a plan that has these key elements in it along with an interview script (introduction, questions, ending statement, etc.) that you will be saying directly your interviewee: summary, materials, tasks, metrics to measure and questions. This way, your research will be more focused and the insights you gain will help guide you to what you should be designing and why.

Revise the Plan

When you make research plan, definitely go by it with other designers and UX researchers to make sure the focus is relevant and that your script flows. Your interview should be structured like a conversation to understand a person on a more “human” basis. Usability sessions shouldn’t be like lab tests or anything sterile. In UX design, our goal is to be as close with people as possible and connect with them on a deeper level.

Prepare Materials

Once you have a solid plan, you should do research on the materials you plan on using to moderate a usability session and/or prepare prototypes for users to interact with. That way you will be able to flawlessly guide users through your study with little trouble and be able to troubleshoot if anything goes wrong.

If you provide something tangible, it allows you to get feedback on your designs faster in order to continue iterating/building. Providing materials for users to interact with can also result in more rich insights because it allows them to understand your research better, as well as build their trust to communicate more deeply with you.

Conduct Pilot Test

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Depending on your usability session, it never hurts to do a mock session or multiple sessions before the actual session. You want to encounter and solve problems before the actual usability test in order to smoothly gather the information you need during it. After all, you don’t want to encounter any problems when moderating, right?

You also want to be prepared and expect that something may go wrong, whether it’s the program or a communication issue. Time is precious on both sides and you are going to want to spend time providing context for your participant before making them do tasks/answer questions. When something goes unexpected and you aren’t prepared for it, it can waste time as well as result in having to recruit another person to do the study with in case your data gets compromised. This would require you to have to go back a few steps which would not bode well if you have deadlines to meet. Do all the hard work first to worry less in the future.

Conduct Actual Test

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Once you make a solid research plan, do your homework on using research tools and conduct a pilot test, you should feel confident in conducting a usability study. Though you don’t need to do a ton of rigorous planning before a usability session, it never hurts to be prepared, especially when something doesn’t go the way you want it to.

For more details on research methods as well as gathering user feedback, read these articles below:

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