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First-Time Usability: Scoping and Planning

Tips on creating and conducting your first usability test.

Building a product requires collaboration from many other people from developers and marketers to directors and CEOs. As such, subjectivity is inherently baked into designs — what one designer thinks works well great, another person may abhor.

I feel like I’ve lost weeks of my life discussing what a user might or might not do in situations. Unfortunately, those conversations are typically couched in personal bias and, often, do not accurately represent how users approach or interact with a product.

How, then, do you get an objective view of design? Test your solutions with users before you build.

This is the power of usability testing. It is a straightforward and powerful way to get user feedback by helping remove internal subjectivity from designs and focusing on actual user behavior. By watching users complete tasks, problems (from language and style to layout and flow) are naturally identified.

What’s a usability test?

A usability test is when you ask your target audience to use parts or features of your product/service in order to ascertain a design’s effectiveness. Typically, participants are asked to complete a series of tasks, with the results of those tasks analyzed to understand where and why problems occur.

Usability tests can be moderated or unmoderated. In a moderated test, a facilitator asks the participant questions as they go through the tasks. In an unmoderated test, the participant goes through the tasks on their own.

Why you should conduct one?

Aside from allowing your user a voice in your design process, usability testing often saves your company time and money. If completed before development, you might be saved form having to redesign a completed feature. If the feature or part already exists, then testing allows you narrow in on the precise pain point, instead of debating personal opinions.

This guide is divided into 5 sections:

1. Creating a Plan & Scoping and Planning Sessions
2. Creating a Test and Script
3. Recruiting Users
4. Moderating Sessions
5. Analyzing Results

Creating a Plan & Scoping and Planning Sessions

The first step of any usability test is to define the scope of your test and plan the week. Creating an accurate and detailed scope of work can be broken into four parts:

  • Create the plan;
  • Identify the area of focus;
  • Specify the problem, hypothesis, and metrics; and
  • Define your target user

Creating the Plan

It might sound simple, but time runs out quickly, so creating a day-by-day plan helps you get on track.

Day 1:

  • Define area of focus
  • Create problem statements, hypotheses, and metrics
  • Define target users

Day 2:

  • Create the tasks, script
  • Start recruiting and scheduling
  • Write screener
  • Create a “first thoughts” sheet
  • Create a spreadsheet for in-depth analysis

Day 3:

  • Finalize recruitment and scheduling
  • Practice

Day 4:

  • Test

Day 5:

  • Compile results

Identify the area of focus

This posits that you have a product or concept that you want to test.

First, decide your area of focus. This might be easy at first, as there may be a couple of things that immediately come to mind., but as you continue testing, it may become difficult to decide priority.

A great place to start is with the product goals — are they all being achieved? If not, why? Is part of the product hindering these goals? If available, analytic data can be incredibly useful to help understand under-performing elements.

Specify the problem, hypothesis, and metrics

It’s very important to understand exactly what you are testing and why you are testing it. Creating a problem statement and hypothesis around the problem are excellent ways to keep yourself on track and measure your work. For example, let’s say that your research shows that almost all your users are not taking a specific action on the page.

Make problem statement from this, such as:
I believe users are not taking an action on this page because the call to action is hidden. (cause)

You can now create a hypothesis to test this, such as:
Users will utilize the call to action on this page if we prioritize it higher on the page. (answer)

Since you have both a cause and answer, you can create multiple ways to solve the cause. More than one problem statement and hypothesis will most likely be needed for any area, but, at first, you may want to limit yourself to a two or three, in order to maintain an achievable time frame.

Finally, create metrics by which to measure your hypothesis.

What are Metrics?
Validate Assumptions
Mesaure the impact of changes
Help make better decisions

1.Comparative, Actionable, understandable and measurable.

In our call to action example, a simple metric for this could be: Did the rate of users activating the call to action increase?

You can have more than one metric, but make sure that the end result is actually something measurable. Try to steer clear of things like “Users like it more” or “Users can complete the task easier.” Create metrics that are as quantifiable as possible.

Define target users

Hopefully, your target users have already been identified — this typically happens in the initial conception phases. But if not, that’s ok. You don’t have to have detailed personas to understand who you want to target. You do, however, want to have a general sense of:

  1. Users who currently use your product. (This information can sometimes be found through analytics); and/or
  2. Users you want to use your product. (This may be very general, such as “millennials”, or specific, such as “24-year-old male painters”.

It’s also a good idea to think about any other needed attributes specific to your product. Examples might include the level of technology use, location, income level, education level, marital status, or the number of children.

This information will be used to guide your screener, so more detail is better because then you have a higher probability of finding the right users.