How to Run Your First Usability Test

In my last two posts I wrote about the What and When of usability testing. Today I’ll be running through the How for first time testers.

There are a lot of different ways to study the usability of your product and depending on the situation you want to adjust your approach accordingly. The most useful place to start is with user testing and the great part is that there are some quick and easy steps so that  anyone can do it.

From a high level, you’re going to get users that are representative of real-life users, give them tasks to complete that real-life users would complete and watch what they do and how they do it.  Take notes, communicate what you see to your team and already you’ll have a better product. To do a slightly more formal study dive into the steps below.

Define Your Goal
First, what’s your goal? Just as you’ve defined the goal of your product, in turn you need to understand your goal of the test you’re going to perform before anything else. For example:

Can users find out about my consulting services?

Which method do users use to find a product in order to put it in the cart?

The important part in defining this is to create focus around the most important aspect of your product to test. The wider your testing lens (the more things you try to test) the more time a user has to begin learning your UI and creating skewed results. Remember the goal is to get a user’s initial reaction, not hoping they figure your UI out.

Create the Tasks
The next step is to define the tasks that you want the users to perform. What steps do you need them to take in order to achieve your goal?

Goal: Can users find out about my consulting services?
Task: Use the website to find out about any consulting services.  

Goal: Which method do users use to find a product in order to put it in the cart?
Task: Use the website to purchase a shirt for under $30.

Define Your Users
You need to understand who is going to be using your product. List out their primary characteristics so that when you go out to recruit subjects to help with your testing you can try to match as closely as possible to what a real-life user looks like. Some products have multiple users who will use the product differently. If that’s the case make sure to focus on the correct personas for the test you’re running. If multiple groups will need to achieve the goal you’ve laid out, make sure to get representatives from each set.

Write Your Plan
There are many good reasons to write your plan down, but the two most important are to make sure the stakeholders understand what you’re planning on doing and are on board and to have a clear layout throughout the testing.  

I still use this sample plan as a template when I conduct a user test:

And for the script part I always start with this:

Although over time mine has evolved into more of my voice and shifts based on what type of product I’m testing.

In addition UXPin has put together some great documents which you can find here, including a video consent form and a checklist for test day. They are a good starting point but definitely recommend making them your own.

Recruit Users
This is often viewed as one of the most difficult parts of the overall process. Finding the right kind of users (as you’ve defined above), scheduling times and preparing the documentation. For this, try to find users that are as close to real-life users as possible but don’t be super strict. Find friends, family or co-workers that fit the bill and ask them to do you a favor, especially if this is your first time through. Also, if you have existing users that’s how I’ve done the majority of my testing throughout my career.  They’re often more than happy to contribute to helping especially if they’re a fan.  

This article does a good job of laying out ways to recruit different types of users.

Conduct The Test
You can run the test face-to-face or over a screen sharing service. I’ve used in the past and in my most recent study used Go To Meeting, which worked well and was cheap.

Regardless of your proximity, address the user by name and thank them for their time. Make sure they are comfortable with the platform and then run through your script.

When it’s the user’s time to shine, say as little as possible and don’t answer any questions that might guide them to an solution that you’re hoping to find through the testing.  Let them know you’ll answer that question when the test is done or that you want to see how they work it out for themselves.

Once you’ve gone through all of the scenarios, ask any questions through what they saw or as follow up to the tasks they’ve just performed and make sure to give the user time to ask any questions of their own.

Write the Report
Using your notes and reviewing the video make an outline of the improvements that could be made to the site. Mark each change with a priority level and include both written and sketched suggestions so that you can add it to your next sprint or planning cycle. If it’s helpful you can even edit sections of the video to share with the engineering or designers so they can see the problem first hand.

I like to create a folder on Google Drive and include all the videos, the initial write-up and the final report along with a file linking to any stories or tickets I’ve created.  

As I said early, there are many other types of usability tests which I will go over in a future post, but for now you’re armed to go and run a user test and improve your product.

What else would you like to know about user testing or usability studies? Let me know in the comments.

Are you interested in having me run a usability study for you? Contact me.

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