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Platform research & development

Usability test insights from a UX Researcher

Person holding a pink sticky note with the following text written on it “Run a usability test”
Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Hello, I am a UX researcher at the Canada School of Public Service, a federal government department. I am sharing here some of my experiences doing usability tests for a content sharing platform being developed. I hope that this article will benefit you in conducting your own usability tests.

Before continuing, let’s see why someone would need to conduct a usability test.

Know what a usability test can help you discover

The purpose of any usability test is to find the usability flaws or issues in the prototype which enable us to further refine the interface design and the system.

Some goals of the usability test are -

  • Can the user accomplish tasks?
  • How long does it take to accomplish the tasks?
  • How does the user perceive the interface design?

What are the elements of a usability test?

  • Test plan - This will include all the details of the usability test. For example, in our test plan we have an introduction, goals, methodologies, script etc.
  • Prototype/wireframe - Usability test requires a prototype which allows to get quick feedback. We have used Adobe XD to build our prototype. There are many tools available to prototype. For example, it could also be a simple paper prototype
  • Usability questionnaire - Look for a usability questionnaire that fits your needs. For example, we have used System usability scale questionnaire to measure the usability of the interface.
  • Consent form -If you are recording always ensure that you have the participants consent to record the video/ audio.
  • Screen the users for testing - Always test the prototype with the target users in mind. For example, we have screened the users looking specifically for people who create learning content across Government of Canada.
  • Pilot test - Before conducting a usability test with the participants, do a pilot test with your colleague to prep before your test
  • Note taker - Try to have a note taker. Tip - While the user performs the tasks, observe and note down the steps user has taken to accomplish the task. Also, observe what steps user has missed. Based on your observations, ask follow-up questions.

Expect the unexpected

  • When reaching out and coordinating with users, be aware that participants may require you to reschedule your usability tests. So, try to keep your schedule flexible during the usability test period.

Managing time

  • If the participant is giving you more information than required and you are under a time limit, move the participant to the next question by politely saying “thank you for your insights, I would like to ask you another question.”

Avoid overwhelming yourself with the data collected/memory management

  • Based on your notes and memory, write down key observations immediately after the usability test is finished. This could help to avoid overwhelming yourself with lots of data.

Remember to apply #1 UX principle, “Empathy” with your participants and yourself

  • Ensure that the participant feels comfortable during the test. This also helps you stay calm and focused during the test.
  • Remember that usability test does not have to be perfect. You might come across that which you did not expect. For example, sometimes you send a link to the prototype, but it is experiencing glitches, you may have to find a way to go with the flow.

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