Why, When, & How to Utilize Usability Testing

By Anshey Bhatia • May 24, 2016

If you work in the digital design industry, I’m certain you keep hearing about user and usability testing more and more. To clients, and others unfamiliar, it can be difficult to explain why it’s so necessary.

Why, why, why?

Usability testing has the potential to determine why problems exist for your users. This method of research is helpful because it focuses on actual behavioral patterns and designs solutions as opposed to solely relying on the assumptions and prescribed solutions by clients.

  • Designers make a lot of assumptions about what is: ‘useful, functional, learnable, and delightful’ for their users.
  • It is impossible to understand the wants, needs, pains and pleasures of your users while designing from within a vacuum.
  • Design and Development is expensive. Usability testing assures that time spent in design and development is not time wasted.

>Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

If possible, Usability Testing can and should be conducted on the current iteration of a product before beginning any design work. This will quickly identify areas for opportunity, and reduce the amount of assumptions our design team will make with regard to what the users wants. Additionally, the team should (after analysis) have the ability to pinpoint how to achieve the project’s’ goal with as little disruption as possible (Minimum Viable Product).


Users are smart, we should be listening to them! They often know what they want and will surprise designers with their expectations. A valuable usability test will contain non-leading objective tasks enabling the facilitator to identify patterns of the user’s pleasure and pain-points.

  • Develop a ‘script,’ with specific actionable tasks for the user to complete. Typically, a task will center around the testing of a primary feature. The order of tasks, and tasks themselves should be identical test-to-test in order to maintain consistency.
  • After observing a user completing a task, it’s helpful to ask for a verbal reaction:
  • “Is this what you expected to see?”
  • “If this wasn’t a test, would you have completed this task?”
  • “Would you recommend this site/app to a friend? Why, why not?”

Asking non-leading questions should help engage the user and inspire creative thinking for both the user and tester. Upon completing a user test, I like asking users, “If you had a magic wand, what is something that you would change about this site/app?”

If it ain’t broke…

Don’t assume that a system is completely broken when beginning a project. Most likely designers, developers, researchers, content strategists, etc. have already spent a lot of time building what you see before you. Rather than assuming that the efforts of previous teams were completely misguided, identify particular areas where design, testing, and validation can be conducted in order to enhance and correct the product. Ultimately, this will assist in limiting the scope of work.

When do we test?

To Start: As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to test the usability and functionality of a product at the genesis of a project. This will reveal what is currently working and what is broken.

Early & Often: Once you have formed a concept and strategy for the improvements needed in order to achieve both the client & user goals, develop a low-fidelity mockup which can be tested and iterated upon.

Validation: Usability testing at the culmination of a project is a great way to ensure that the proposed design solution will be effective before handing a project off to development.

Any more questions about usability testing? Let me know in the comments below.

Anshey Bhatia

Founder of Verbal+Visual. E-commerce nerd. People connector. Travel junkie. Tech lover.

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