When should you use this method?
Use this method when you need to understand what a user is experiencing or will experience when using a product or feature. These can be done after a product is built or, even better, before with a prototype (see prototyping).
Why use this method?
According to Nielsen Norman, doing 5 usability tests can uncover 85% of usability issues (these can be costly mistakes!).
How? (this section is how I personally like to run tests)
Get together with the team working on the project (designer, product manager, engineer, etc.) to:
- discuss the project, specifically what they want the user to get out of the experience (ex. by the end of the onboarding experience, I want the user to be able to x, y, and z).
- have the team walk you through the experience you'll be testing.
- this is helpful to ensure you understand the flow, check that everything is working as expected, and make sure you have all the assets, permissions, etc. that you'll need to test the experience.
- send out a test plan post-meeting.
- Here's an example of a test plan.
- schedule pilot of the test.
- I like to send two separate invitation, since observers and participants typically aren't in the same room (more people in room = more difficult to build rapport with the participant/increase observer effect). One goes to the participant and one goes to the observers, ensuring they understand how/where to watch the test.
- "Test the test" - Try out the test with someone before the real deal. It's a great way to ensure you have everything you need and that your tasks make sense.
- Once you feel confident, schedule the real tests. I recommend at least 5, but this can vary depending on the population you're trying to understand and the experience.
Remote Usability Testing
There are a number of tools to allow you to run remote usability studies, aka studies with people who aren't in front of you:
Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug -
“A morning a month, that’s all we ask. Basically, it amounts to doing a round of testing once a month, with three users [so three separate usability tests each with a different user]. On testing day, you do three tests in the morning and then debrief over lunch. By the time lunch is over, you’re done with usability testing for the month, and you know what you’re going to fix before the next round.”
Usability Testing Pocket Guide by Dana Chisnell
10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design by Jakob Nielsen
Want to actually see it? Here are a couple of my favorite examples of highly skilled researchers running usability tests.