Usability Test: How to?

This article is a basic How to do Usability testing with some personal tips and zero philosophical quotes.

Let’s begin!

0. Prepare the Logistics

This one is simple management, it’s better to deal with all organisational tasks early on. This way the main focus would be on the study itself, instead of searching for the mouse or keyboard, or buying software 5 minutes before participant coming in.

The basics are:

The room 
unless you have a special lab, but it should be booked in advance too ;)

Book a place for the whole duration of the usability test, or if it is a meeting room book at least 30 minutes gaps before and after the session to prepare the setting, yourself and meet the participant in a happy mood. It sounds clear, but with participants cancellations and rescheduling having a safe place to conduct a study is always great.

Explain to your colleagues what is happening if they are not familiar with the concept. I like to put a sign on the door that a Usability test is in progress, so no one will accidentally enter.
Same goes for the remote tests, finding a spot with no distractions is the key :) I usually do remote testing from home, maximum focus and minimum distractions.

It varies from project to project, most likely you will need:

  • laptop and/or mobile phone for the participants if they do not feel comfortable with you using and recording on their own devices.
  • Software to record the sessions: choosing software for your budget and needs. My personal favourite is

incentives for the participants with the client or Project manager. Gift cards are the easiest way to go, the amount is highly depend on the audience status and location.

When budget is limited, I’m usually aiming for a small gift that will make participant smile. Instead of generic 10 euros card it can be a coffee cup, cool laptop sticker and chocolate, colouring book and pencils or else. With nice wrapping and a thank you note it makes the whole experience a bit more human.

1. Plan and Prioritise

The first thing to decide is what does the test cover.

What functionalities or user flows are tested?
What are the hypothesises for the current interface? 
Is it good, or where do you and your team think it will suffer? 
The key hypothesises and assumptions will be the base for the future test tasks. It is also fine to test “Is it an okay flow?”

The better you are prepared and the more detailed you are in the beginning the more you might notice while conducting the test and analysing data.

2. Usability Test Script

When assumptions and flows are decided it is time to write a real test script for the study.

Decide on what to measure for each task, most common criteria are:

  • Successful Task Completion
  • Critical Errors
  • Time On Task
  • Likes, Dislikes and Recommendations

There can be tasks focused on time only, and Errors would not be so essential if the task completed on time or faster. There might also be a task where is time is not the number one priority.

Script structure example.

The task should be clear and easy to understand for the participant. It does not have to be a novel but ideally it is a descriptive real-life situation participant can relate to.

“Please, Send money via service X.” vs “Today you decided to transfer 50 euros money gift to your friend from another country, you mentioned you have a friend in Latvia, lets send him/her 50 euros via service X.” (better) vs “You mentioned that you are sending 200 euros to your grandfather in Tashkent every month, lets transfer him 200 euros via service X” (❤).

The more real life data you use, the more real life results you get.

Simple trick for the payment related services is to ask participant to use their own credit card (you will reimburse the amount later) and see if they agree to provide their own data to the service.

3. Recruitment

The first step for the recruitment is to decide on the right audience to test on. Prepare a screener (a set of questions) to define if the individual is the right fit for the study.

Choose wisely, the better target fit = the better context of usage!

Then moving to the recruitment part it can be DIY or through agency or panel. Usually, a recruitment approach highly depends on the budget and on the type of audience, you are looking for.

After the potential participants are found it is time to schedule.


  • Schedule +2–3 more participants in case of cancellations or participant being not the right fit.
  • Make at least 30 minutes break in between sessions.
  • Consider inviting the client or the team to observe the sessions.
  • Do not schedule more than 4–5 meetings per day, your health is more important than any usability problems.

3. Conducting a usability test session

Meet and greet your participant before the session to start casual and friendly. I prefer to meet participants myself (instead of the office manager) to help them with coffee/tea and chat a bit. It really helps to establish the connection and make the person feel more comfortable. When all small talk is over, that’s the time to explain what is the session about, how long will it take and sign recording permission or NDA if needed.

While conducting a usability study keep in mind that it is not an interview, so going in-depth with additional questions might ruin the time for the task completion or shift the whole research into a discussion. Though if the situation and the timing are fitting, asking some clarifying questions is fine.

4. Synthesising

Task completion table.

All the data can be sorted by task completion, critical/non-critical errors and time. And it is a playtime indeed: if it is a critical Error in low priority flow — is it as critical as a medium error in the highly important user flow? How long is too long for the time of completion? And what are the consequences of the tasks completed with help?

5. Presenting results and happy ever after?

Presenting results to the stakeholders, team and everyone who is interested in the project is the final step. That is the moment when the team will decide which results from usability testing will be worked on and improved and which ones will be on hold for a while. Well, it is not over! New changes, new ideas, new releases and new usability tests to make the users happy. Iterate it all over again and see how the product evolve.

P.S. I’ve been trying to put my thoughts into writing for quite a while and it is very scary, thank you to my Mobi Lab colleagues for pushing me hard to overcome my imposter syndrome :)