Beyond usability testing — Maturing a research team

Steve Bromley
Leading Research
Published in
8 min readAug 27, 2020

New user research teams often start by focusing on usability testing — evaluating existing products and identifying aspects where users don’t understand how it works, or are unable to use it as expected.

The benefit of usability testing is immediately obvious — it highlights problems, which can be sized, prioritised and added to a backlog alongside more functional bugs. Fixing these problems has a reasonably clear return on investment, as we will see. Usability issues are simple to understand, and addressing them is simple to fit in with the rest of the team’s existing development process.

Although fixing issues is a great start for a new research team, focusing only on usability is limiting the value that user research can have. In this post, we cover what else user research teams should do for their organisations, and explore how to overcome some of the barriers to doing more impactful work.

What does usability testing miss?

Usability testing requires a product to be built before it can be tested. Even testing prototypes requires some commitment to “this is what we’re thinking of making” before deciding to test it.

This misses opportunities for inspiring radical innovation, and costs companies money.

Deciding ‘this is what we’re building’ before running studies means that companies don’t fully understand who their users are. They also won’t understand what issues users have, or where the business opportunities are. Understanding users better can help prioritise ‘what is the best problem for our product to solve’, and inspire creative ways of addressing the issues.

When the initial idea is wrong, and this isn’t discovered until later in development, changes need to be made to what is being built. Making changes has a financial and political cost, which costs companies money.

Graph showing costs going up over development
Making changes earlier is cheaper

As the above chart demonstrates, It’s much cheaper to change ideas before production has started. It’s more expensive once development starts and some constraints get locked in. It’s almost impossible to make some significant changes to some product after launch, without throwing out a lot of very expensive development work.

Steve Bromley
Leading Research

Experienced user researcher, working with new research teams, and video game studios. The book ‘How To Be A Games User Researcher’ is out now.