QA 101

Usability Testing

Discover the essential nature of usability testing and why it is necessary to deliver a seamless user experience for all users.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing, conversely to traditional functional testing, is focused upon the user experience provided by the software. Bugs may be found and reported during usability testing, certainly, but usability testers focus more on how the application works than whether it works. As such, testers are typically assigned a set of tasks and asked to report on whether the tasks were easy to complete and where improvements can be made.

Usability testing can be done in multiple settings. Some choose to perform this in a lab setting where all devices and variables are carefully maintained in order to keep a stable environment. On the other hand, companies can have testers perform usability testing on their own devices in real-world situations, enabling feedback from the imperfect conditions the product will likely be used in.

Ultimately, usability testing is the part of your SDLC that allows you to understand whether your product is easy to use for consumers, and if not, identify those shortcomings and fix them prior to production.

Usability Testing Benefits Both Companies and Customers

Keeping customers happy while serving them effectively and efficiently is the best way for any company to achieve its primary goal: maximizing profits. Through usability testing, you are able to identify potential areas of frustration for customers and address them prior to launch. From this, you are able to maximize customer sentiment and the overall experience. These benefits include:

  • Gathering direct feedback from your target audience that can detect usability issues before a product launch
  • Gaining insight into user satisfaction before releasing to the general public
  • Gaining insight into the effectiveness of personalization and localization features
Tattooed Man Using Mobile Phone
Photo Usability

Making Usability Testing Count

The term ‘usability testing’ is a rather broad moniker that incorporates a spectrum of specific usability focuses. Generally speaking, the following two testing disciplines fall under the umbrella of usability testing:

  • Formative Usability: This is done at the beginning of the design phase in order to understand initial user reactions to the design. Rather than review the interface itself, users evaluate the design based on paper prototypes and wireframes. This allows you to gather feedback on user expectations for the experience before any code has been entered, making any changes to the design easy to implement.
  • Summative Usability: This is done during the latter half of the development phase by testing with actual working prototypes. At this point, you are looking to establish baseline metrics on the experience from time on task to success rates. This creates a baseline for you to compare test results of future versions against.

The different forms of usability testing will ultimately combine to provide a usability evaluation. This evaluation is formulated through the collection of feedback gathered during the above phases of usability testing. The usability evaluation simply distills the feedback into a report that reflects the true usability of the product.

What About the Cost?

Anytime software development budgets are tight (and when are they not?), funds allocated toward testing are likely to be stretched thin. So any discussion about adding an additional layer of testing is certain to raise the question, what about the added cost?

Fortunately, usability testing can be very efficient. A number of factors can impact the cost involved — the size of the testing team, the breadth and depth of the testing, and the amount of time allocated to it. Though usability testing can somewhat increase overall testing costs, the ROI potential is staggering.

Every Application Undergoes Usability Testing

Unfortunately, usability testing is not always utilized by software development organizations. Budgetary restraints and scheduling pressures sometimes tempt leadership into forgoing usability testing. All software applications, however, undergo usability testing — whether it’s executed by trained professionals or from unknowing paying customers.

In the latter case, paying customers are typically left dissatisfied at being presented with a subpar product and often won’t even give it a second chance. It is far better to use real testers in a structured usability testing program. Its true impact extends not only to your App Store rating, but to your overall customer loyalty and brand perception.

What makes something simple or complex? It’s not the number of dials or controls or how many features it has. It is whether the person using the device has a good conceptual model of how it operates.
Donald Norman

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