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The general rule is that you are always better of conducting even a few usability tests than no tests at all. Read more usability testing in the article on usability testing.
Below we discuss the role of usability testing in the following scenarios:
- You have a website or app that is already live, but you're curious how you can improve the UX
- You are developing a website or app and want to test a prototype
- Testing usability for mock-ups and non-interactive prototypes
- Testing prototypes with interactive elements
- Testing the usability in the phase prior to launch
Usability testing during development
User tests show you how real users use your product and provide you with valuable feedback. Early use of usability testing in the development process has two major advantages:
- Usability testing shows what frustrates users and reveals which parts of the design do not work as you had anticipated. You save a lot of time and money by implementing fundamental design changes in the design at an early stage, which helps you to create a better product and to go live sooner.
- By viewing the usability test videos you see your website or app through the eyes of the user. By doing so, you really get to know the user which helps you to develop a produc that fits their needs.
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Phase 1: Usability testing with sketches and non-interactive prototypes
This type of test is also called an exploratory user test. Sketches and non-interactive prototypes are tested with real users. Since users are unable to interact with these early designs, it is recommended to have a moderator guiding the session.
These types of usability tests are usually conducted in a usability lab, but there are tools (e.g. Invision & Adobe XD) out there to help you do this faster and quicker online.
In this early phase of the development process, design teams are usually interested to find out to what extent the design:
- Helps the user the achieve fulfill its needs;
- Clarifies which steps the user must complete;
- Makes navigating to different pages easy and intuitive.
Since fundamental design decisions often take place early in the design process, the value of conducting usability tests early cannot be understated. If radical adjustments in the design have to be made, it is better to do this early in the design process - as doing this in a later stage will require a lot of time and effort.
Phase 2: Usability testing with interactive prototypes
This type of test is also called the assessment test. In this phase you test a product that has already built-in some functionalities and in which the tester can move through the website or app. Depending on the complexity of the design and the process, this can be done with or without a moderator.
This type of test can take place in a usability lab or via a usability testing platform like User Sense.
Key characteristics of assessment tests are:
- Instead of just verbal feedback, you actually see how users interact with the design
- Communication with a moderator is restricted or absent
- Quantitative metrics such as the error rate and the task completion time are collected
Phase 3: User testing before launch
This type of test is also called the validation or verification test and takes place at the end of the development cycle. This type of usability test can take place online and in a usability lab, with or without a moderator.
Key characteristics of the validation test are:
- Usability criteria that have been setup prior to the test and will be measured during the usability tests
- The tester has very limited or no contact at all with the moderator
- Collecting quantitative data has a bigger focus compared to other tests
Once the above data points have been collected, they are then compared to a project, company, or industry benchmark to gain insight into how the product is performing.
Usability metrics are discussed in the chapter on ‘Analysing Usability Test Results’.
Phase X: A / B usability testing
This type of test is also called the comparative user test and can be used during every phase of the design cycle. In a comparative test, multiple designs are tested. Companies can do this by creating multiple designs themselves, but also by comparing their own designs with that of the competition.
By having multiple variants tested, you gain insight into what works and what doesn't. The goal of this type of usability testing is not to see which design is better, but to pick and choose elements of all designs that worked well - and then combine these into a new design.
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