Our individual preferences and digital experiences guide how we respond to a company’s website and/or application. Usability and UX testing play a key role, often subconsciously, in determining whether we like a specific website.

Think about a website you frequently visit – how does it make you feel? Can you navigate the pages with ease? Did you experience difficulties performing a transaction?

Companies design their websites and applications for their customers and need to take these questions into account during the website construction stage. While participating in usability tests, keeping these questions in mind help companies ‘get in the mind’ of a customer and enable users to provide relevant, honest and useful feedback.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing refers to the testing of a website or application using a targeted group of people to see if they encounter problems or experience confusion, while performing customer journeys. The participant’s purpose is to evaluate whether the user interface is user-friendly and if it allows the user to complete the intended tasks successfully and with ease.

The objectives are:

  1. Get user feedback
  2. Gauge whether user expectations are met
  3. Understand whether the business model is matching the real-world use
  4. Gather valuable user insight
  5. Find out if the product is on the right track

Steps to perform a usability test

  1. Develop a test plan – this should define the scope of your work, metrics and the objectives. At this stage, participants are identified
  2. Test facilitation – observation and interviewing of participants. This will enable you identify issues and offer solutions
  3. Data analysis
  4. Report creation – including design recommendations

Usability testing focuses primarily on three areas

  • User interface (UI): The user interface refers to the pages and screens that provide the user the means to interact with the computer or application.
  • Usability: Usability refers to the measure of how easily the user is able to use the website or application. Most applications such as shopping websites need to have a greater usability to enable users to interact with most features and functionality without any difficulties to provide a good user experience.
  • User experience (UX): UX measures how users experience a website. It factors in the positive and negative range of thoughts and feelings that arise before, during and after using the website or application.

Read our ultimate guide to usability testing here!

Ways to perform a usability test

  • In-house or testing within an organisation refers to the type of usability testing setting where test participants perform the testing in-person in the same building as where the test moderator and developer resides.
  • Remote usability testing is where the testers use voice and video recording applications while they interact with the product and give their opinion in a natural out-of-house environment.
  • In moderated testing the moderator and the participant communicate in real-time by using tools and applications such as screen sharing and video call.
  • In unmoderated testing the moderator and the participant do not communicate in real-time. Instead, the participant uses a survey task plan that was created by the moderator and completes the usability testing on his/her own schedule.

Why is usability testing needed?

In an industry dedicated to creating a great digital experience for people who use their products, services, and apps, usability testing is paramount. Companies regularly build software and other products for the consumer to use. Usability testing is necessary to ensure the product created is easy to use for the end-user. If it is not user-friendly, users may not be inclined to use the product or software application, and are likely to use a competitor’s product/website.

When should usability testing be implemented?

Usability testing should be performed throughout the product/ application development cycle. At the very least, usability testing can be deployed before a product or application is sold or used by paying customers. Once obvious issues have been identified, there will be time to fix them during the development cycle. Complex issues can be fixed at the first maintenance release.

Who needs usability testing?

Usability testing is targeted at ensuring companies make user-friendly products. Thus, every company that produces user-facing products, such as websites and applications, needs usability testing to ensure that their product is user-friendly.

Usability testing execution

A usability testing expert will talk to the client and understand their pain points and desired goals. They will also undertake an expert review of the application or product. The usability expert will then compile the feedback and designs into a plan that will be executed by the test participants. After the testers have completed the trial period test, the usability expert analyses the data gathered and compiles a report that organises the results of the tests in order of urgency, along with suggestions for improvements and changes.

Usability testing methods

Usability researchers have developed techniques over the years for testing and validating the product hypothesis and particular design decisions. The methods range from well-known lab-based usability studies to those that have been more recently developed.

One should have a clear understanding of the target audience, available resources such as time and money, and research objectives before defining a test plan.

  • Moderated usability testing

Testing is done in a controlled environment such as the development office and supervised by a moderator. This kind of testing is done when targeting in-depth information on the user interaction with the product and the issues they face.

  • Unmoderated remote usability testing

This testing occurs remotely without a moderator. Participants are usually asked to complete some tasks in their own environment using their own devices and without a moderator present. This kind of testing is best used when wanting to obtain a large sample of tests, providing a hypothesis from your initial moderated research.

  • Contextual enquiry

This is similar to an interview/observation exercise that helps a product development team to obtain information about the user experience from real users. This is best done at the beginning of the design process to enable the product team to design a well-tailored experience.

  • Phone interview

A phone interview refers to a remote usability test where a moderator instructs participants to complete certain tasks on their device and give feedback on the product or application they are testing. This is best to collect feedback from test participants scattered around different parts of the globe.

  • Session recording

Session recording involves anonymously recording the actions that real users take while they interact with a site. This data helps to understand what content/features most interest the users. Also, what problems the users encounter when they interact with your product.

  • Card sorting

Card sorting allows you to prioritise the content and the user interface of the application product, it allows the participants to sort the information in a logical manner that makes sense to them.


Usability testing can be used in various ways throughout the websites development and deployment process. Usability testing mimics the real-life usage of a website or application and is the best way to ensure your website users are supported and feel confident while performing journeys and conversions.

Published On: March 6th, 2020 / Categories: Usability testing /