Usability testing, a key activity in every design project (part 1)

Whenever we start a project we want to get into the user’s head. How will he use the product, what does he need the product to do and can he efficiently get his tasks done? There are many ways to figure this out, one of which is by doing a usability test. This is a quick and moderated test that extracts valuable insights at any time in your design process:

  • Early on in a project, a usability test is a good starting point for a redesign or competitor analysis.
  • During a project it can be used to explore (different) concepts or a beta version of the product.
  • At the end of a project it can be used to figure out how people receive the product, but also to see how we can improve the design.

The end goal of a usability test is to gather user feedback so that the design of the product can be improved. We use this method in design sprints as well.

Testing your product, every step of the way

“Discover design problems early and define the next steps”

Why should you test?

Testing your product with the end user is a very (if not the most) important part of any project we do. This is the moment where you will see how your end user actually uses the product you created!

If this isn’t a good enough reason to convince your PO, manager, or whoever signs off on your request, here are some other reasons why you should conduct a usabilitytest:

  • The end goal of your usabilitytest is always to improve the design;
  • We are testing our assumptions, we want to verify if those are correct;
  • It makes it possible to design even more user focussed, as you see the user use the product;
  • This is your chance to find out why users are leaving at a certain moment;
  • It creates opportunity to convince your stakeholders;
  • It’s a low-fidelity way of gathering feedback. It’s not science, there are no hard truths, but it will tell you if you are going in the right direction;
  • You want to find out if something “doesn’t work” as soon as possible, rather than after investing loads of money in the development process.

Of course the last point depends on the budget and project on how many times you can conduct such tests and to what extent they’re carried out. In our opinion it should be possible to test in any project. On a smaller budget you might not plan a full day of testing, rather you can always conduct small interviews with people on the street.

So, let’s say you’ve decided you’re ready to do some usability testing. How do you prepare it?

Finding volunteers

A test is not a test without people willing to test the product. You want to test with your end user, but if this for whatever reason is not possible you can test with a target group that’s similar. We prefer to outsource the recruitment of users to our clients. They often have a database of users they can contact. If your client isn’t able to find testers (volunteers) you can opt for a recruitment bureau, we like to use You simply give a description of the kind of users you’re looking for and they will look for them. In our case it is very convenient, as they also handle the rewarding of the volunteers afterwards. When making your description think about the device a users should use, age, region, social media use, should it be a customer or a prospect, etc. This is very helpful for the recruitment bureau, but it also makes sure you end up with volunteers that match your actual target audience.

Core team for a good usability test

Gather your team

To conduct a usability test you need a core team. This team includes:

  • Interviewer, the person conducting the interviews.
  • Note-taker(s), people observing the usability test.
  • Volunteers (testers), these are your end users volunteering to test the product.
  • Client, usually the product owner & stakeholders.

We always perform the test with at least two team members (excluding the participant). One member conducts the interview, this person will give tasks to the volunteer and ask questions. The other team member writes down the findings in real-time and is therefore the note-taker. At Hike One we often trade places between interviewer and note-taker, to keep everyone fresh. We also like the client to participate in each test (as a second note-taker), so they know what problems are found. It really helps if they see their actual target audience respond to their products, so this is definitely the time to invite stakeholders!


We don’t write a stack of documents about the test and its results. We have a templated document to prepare the test and after the test is done, we add our findings. In the end, we deliver the following:

  • A brief document with the motive, test subjects, hypotheses and results.
  • A video compilation (optional).

What do you need?

  • All software and hardware to conduct a usability test. We like to use screenflow to record all tests (in our next post we’ll dive into the entire setup).
  • A preparation plan with everything you need (hypotheses, tasks, background about the test, NDA, etc.). Leave a comment if you want to know more about it.


  1. Set a goal
    First off, decide on a goal for the test. Do this together with your client or product owner. What is the main thing you want to test? Do you want to test a certain flow, do you want to find out how a product is perceived, etc. The goal will depend on the project and the phase the project is in.
  2. Testplan
    You have set a goal 💪. Now you are ready to write your testplan. As soon as you know what you are going to test, you can think about the hypotheses and what tasks you are going to give to the volunteer. When you’re deciding on these tasks, keep in mind that they can’t take more than 45 mins. Usually you have time for 3–5 tasks. Make sure the tasks are clear, think about the phrasing and the order of the tasks you are going to give. When writing tasks, think about the goal the user needs to achieve, but don’t give away any info on where to execute an action.
  3. Recruit testers & decide on location
    You need to start recruiting volunteers at least two weeks in advance. Make sure you have a clear description on what users you’re looking for. Also decide on a location. Are you going to test at your client’s office? Or do you want the user to remain unbiased and conduct the test at a neutral place? When you’re deciding on the location, make sure to book two rooms that are near each other. In one room you’ll conduct the interviews, in the other the observation team will be able to see everything that’s happening. It is helpful for the entire team if you also add all this information to the testplan.
  4. Send invites
    As soon as everything is booked, send invites to important stakeholders. In all the tests we’ve conducted they are always wowed by the responses of their customers (most of the time in a positive way 😉).
  5. Gather your testlab suitcase
    Some other practicalities: prepare all your hardware and software. At Hike One we have our usability testlab in a suitcase. It includes all tools we need to conduct a proper usability test: test laptop, chargers, camera, post-its, a 20 meter 😲 HDMI-cable to connect the observation and interview room, markers, etc. If you want to know more about how to set up your own usability suitcase, feel free to leave a comment!
  6. Print your testplan
    Make sure to print the user tasks on individual sheets, so you can hand them out to the volunteer during the test. Also print a few testplans, so the interviewer has the script and the observers can follow along as well.
Practise the interview to make last fixes

Dry run

Before you conduct the actual usability test it is a good idea to do a dry run, also known as pilot test. Just to check if everything works the way you want it to. Sometimes there’s a broken link or a wrong transition (definitely in the case of a prototype). Also check if there are any changes needed to the testscript and tasks (check the timing and phrasing). The dry run is the time to fix these things. An additional tip is to take a picture of your set-up, which you can use in your documentation later on.

🚀 All set! You have now prepared everything for your usability test.

Ready for part 2? In our next post we explain to you in detail how to do a dry-run and execute the actual interviews (part 2).

We offer full-day masterclasses in Usability Testing, custom-built by our professional instructors and experienced designers from the Hike One Academy. Save your spot for the upcoming classes and learn how to set up your own usability lab in practice!



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Hike One

Hike One

Digital Product Design. We guide you to new and better digital products. Writing about digital, design and new products from Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Eindhoven.