Resource: An Introduction to Usability Testing

This publication is in line with our mission at “Usability” Foundation to support organisations, designers and researchers to improve their performance and effectiveness through shared knowledge and guidelines for decision-making processes.


Usability testing can make the difference between progress and complete disappointment for an organisation, producer or a service provider, between excel in the industry and falling into unknowledge.

In this publication, we have outlined a complete handbook to website usability testing, including everything you require to comprehend about it.

What is Usability Testing, and what is its objective?

Usability testing is the process with the main goal to evaluate a product or service by a group of representative users. Through this testing practice, you can identify usability issues, gather qualitative and quantitative data and survey consumer satisfaction with the design of the product or service and its performance and effectiveness. Usability testing allows observing real people’s behaviour when they interact with a website, app, or another product you’ve developed, and whether it meets their expectations. The process is an important move to make sure you build an efficient, practical, and pleasant experience for your consumers.

Usually, usability testing is frequently utilized by designers and organisations that want to enhance their products or services. Еverything that comes to mind from everyday objects like hot plates, tablets and chargers, to complex mechanisms like vehicles and robots, are subjected to multiple testing by a group of representative users. It can be conducted from early development until a product’s release to distinguish issues or sectors requiring correction in their solution packages.

In this day and digital age, if we have to distinguish one product or service that should constantly be testing, it is the online experience. Web developers and designers testing their site’s or applications’ functionality to ensure everything works accurately. 

Who is a “representative user” and why is their function so significant?

A “representative user” is the individual evaluating the quality of a given service or product, picked in light of the fact that they have all or the vast majority of the fundamental characteristics of potential users (consumers of the product/service). Such a person is in the best circumstances to recognise conceivable issues before rolling them out to the entire consumer base.

Keep in mind: usability testing is all about particularised users with defined goals in a particular meaning of use. Undoubtedly, any type of testing is superior to no testing. Take into consideration that you will have the best feedback if your site or app is analyzed by real people from your target audience.

Choosing people for a group of representative users for usability testing is vital to the overall progress. Key characteristics such as gender, age, income levels, race, education, religion, marital status, and geographic location should be considered and conceivably utilized as selection criteria.

For example, a member of the web development team couldn’t assess its functionality, since this person would definitely know the quickest or most straightforward approach to get things done. That is why somebody with too much prior awareness or exposure to the tested product/service isn’t the ideal option for representative users. In-depth knowledge can blind the people familiar with a website.

Types of usability tests

There are two basic types of usability testing valuable at certain stages of the development cycle. We name them formal and informal. 

Informal usability testing

At the early stage of development when the prototypes are not yet realistic and sophisticated, web designers should test the general concept and recognise which ideas and features engage with their consumer’s needs. This early-stage verifying of the main idea saves an enormous volume of time and energy.  

Formal usability testing

After multiple informal usability tests, you will verify the main idea and its viability. Now it’s time to clarify to what extent it accomplishes its purpose.

A formal usability analysis should intend to add the final little details, not displace the fundamental concept of your team’s work. So, you have to ensure your work has effectively gone through a few informal tests and has integrated the resulting feedback, before proceeding to formal study.

At the stage of formal usability testing, your prototype seems to be prepared for distribution, but wait! It needs to be polished and brought to perfection. The analysis ought to disclose all disadvantages and omissions and help the team focus their endeavours on every single thing that could disillusion or even irritate your prospective consumers. 

No doubt, it’s significant for an organization or a team to utilize the two types of usability testing repeatedly before launching since both give valuable insights and important data at every stage of the development of the idea.

How is usability testing conducted?

Usually, a group of representative users are invited to perform particular tasks. At the same time, they are watched by a moderator and a few observers, who can listen and talk, however never partake or offer assistance.

The process requires careful planning and preparation in advance, that includes identifying the target users and particularising their needs, and selection of proper representative users. As well as designing a tailored study script called an “experiment protocol”. This paper is the core of the entire testing session, so a qualified person must do this assignment.

Website usability testing usually involves a live one-on-one session between a moderator and a study participant. The moderator requests the participant to perform specific assignments that are related to the ones the real users are expected to complete later on. Very frequently, the representative user is also asked to answer specific inquiries, both before and after the testing session.

The moderator guiding the participant and reading the assignments which have to be completed. He/she gathers, however, much usability data and feedback as possible during the session. That allows the development team to acquire a profound understanding of consumer behaviour and subsequently to clarify the exact user’s needs. Such comprehensive understanding could only improve the product and increase its success.

Remote usability testing

Usability testing could be conducted remote or in-person. Remote usability tests are done online or by the phone. When it is over the internet, an online software program records the user’s actions while they test the model. This sort of usability testing permits the participant to perform the testing session from their own home or office and allows them to test extended amounts of people from all over the world.

That is the first and most significant advantage of remote usability testing. Without geographical limits, you have expected choice of representative users, and testing sessions can be conducted in a shorter amount of time, saving time, energy, and staff expenses.

When the users are in the comfort of their own home or office, they are more relaxed, and their perceptions, reactions and thoughts are more natural and spontaneous. That is the second great advantage of remote usability testing.

Moderated vs. Unmoderated usability test

Аccording to your goals and development stage, you can conduct two different ways of remote usability testing: moderated or unmoderated.

Remote moderated usability testing

Using an online conference tool, the moderator and user aren’t in the same location, but they are in the same virtual “working place”, sharing screens and interacting in real-time.

The real-time interaction allows the moderator to ask the participant to clarify their answers better or even pose extra inquiries. It is often necessary, and thus the users better understand what is anticipated from them. This makes remote moderated usability testing flexible and easy controlled. 

Unmoderated usability testing

When the testing session is automated through a software program to record the user’s actions, and the users receive the list of tasks that must be completed while their screen (and sometimes their voice) are recorded, we have a remote unmoderated usability test.

In this type of testing, the moderator can review and analyze all recorded observations, comments, and feedback from the user afterwards, whenever and any place it suits them best. That allows for remote unmoderated usability sessions to be conducted with a higher amount of participants to contribute their valuable feedback.

When to use remote moderated and unmoderated usability testing?

When you have complicated or tricky tasks, and the users can not rely on any help to understand them, moderated usability testing is a far preferable option. 

In such cases, the real live online attendance of a moderator simplifies things and guarantees that the input obtained has the profundity and quality important to be of any assistance.

Moreover, testing sessions that require a chained sequence of assignments completion can only be appropriately completed with a moderator present, since failure to achieve a task immediately terminates the session.

In general, the more experienced or skilled the user must be to conclude the session, the smaller the sample size is – therefore, moderated usability testing becomes its con into an advantage when applied in this case.

Finally, when there are protection, safety or technical matters, moderated usability testing is often the only alternative.

On the other hand, unmoderated usability testing is a prefered option when the session includes understandable and particular tasks that do not demand in-depth knowledge or extensive experience. Any organisation that needs a large sample size in a relatively short amount of time can choose an unmoderated usability testing.

In conclusion: Usability testing saves time, energy, and funds. It validates your idea and confirms if your product or service meets the expectations. It provides valuable insight and a better understanding of your consumers’ behaviour and needs. Usability testing guarantees the best possible final product that ultimately produces a better user experience.

Stay with us to know how to set up a website usability test.


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