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What Is Usability Testing and its Value

S.R. Schroeder // Last Updated: 31 August 2015

Let’s begin with a very simple question – what makes a product usable? Seems simple enough, but really, how do you answer this query? It is said that a product is usable when it fulfills its role without frustration, questions, or hindrance. However, let’s get more precise than that. In order for a product to be considered usable, it needs to satisfy certain criteria. I’m going to briefly run through them here, so you get an idea of what I mean, and there are only five of them. 

  • Usefulness – this is the clear one that right off the bat you should of realized. After all, this article is about usability testing. This is the most crucial measure because without it, your product just sits on the self. For an item to be useful, it needs to enable the user to achieve the goal he or she set out when buying the product. It needs to work as advertised and it needs to do it well. A product’s usefulness serves as an assessment of how well it will sell at all, therefore it is the most important criteria when accessing if a product should go on the market.
  • Efficiency – this is number two on our list and it is relatively straight-forward. By “efficiency,” I mean simply mean how quickly the task can be completely accomplished. This is a sure-indicator that a product is worthwhile – that it does what it was designed to do, but it also does it rapidly.
  • Effectiveness – a word oftentimes used in conjunction with efficiency, for a product to be effective it needs to behave in a way that is expected. Oftentimes, this can be calculated with an error rate – take it, as an example, we were calculating how often computers would work upon first reboot. The statement of effective would be something along the lines of “in 99% of cases, our laptops turned on with no issues upon first-time use.” In this circumstance, this product would be said to be 99% effective. That’s pretty good! Of course, effectiveness is relative an your team needs to determine if your effectiveness is at a proper-enough rate to be put on the market.
  • Learnability – in other words, how easy is it for the product to be used? Does it require skill to be used effectively? – Or can it complete its task without much background training? These are all questions you need to keep in mind because they pertain directly to the consumer’s motivations for using the product in the first place.
  • Satisfaction – this asks how the user feels about the product. Such data can be collected using oral or written examinations. Asking users about their satisfaction with the product can reveal problems otherwise unknown initially, helping you to correct them. Satisfaction is directly linked to the product’s ability to fulfill its needs; therefore, satisfaction is intimately tied to usefulness.

However, why would you even bother with usability testing? Firstly, they allow the design and development teams to diagnose and solve issues before they are put on the market. This is crucial because the earlier they are coded the less costly they will be to fix. In other words, once your product is out there – and if you discover a mistake after the fact – you will need to spend a lot of money. This is intuitive, so I suggest you take my word of advice and adhere to usability testing as a principle before marketing.

As already said, the benefits of usability testing are multifold. During the test itself, you will discover key issues that you otherwise would not have realized. Such include (1) learning if the participants of the test can use the product effectively, (2) identifying how much time the task itself involves, (3) how satisfied your participants were with your web site, (4) identify feedback and assess the performance in an effort to improve satisfaction, and (5) assess the product’s performance to see if it matches the objectives laid out beforehand. All of these are necessary to making your product more attractive. 

It is also crucial to note that you do not do usability testing for the sake of it – for doing such a test is not your goal. Rather, you utilize the usability test to reach your goals. This is a crucial distinction. What are these goals? They are to match the five criteria outlined above; they are to minimize errors; and, above all, they are to make your product accessible to the everyday consumer. Accessibility is a topic we have not yet discussed, but it is a simple one: design your product to usable for people who have disabilities, or for people who have special circumstances.

This will not only allow your product greater reach in the market, but it will also mean that because they are accessible to individuals with disabilities, they will be more accessible to those without. Accessibility is crucial to making your product visible, and therefore more useful, to the consumer.The beauty of usability testing is that it does not require a formal lab – it can be done in a small setting, depending on the product of course. The cost of the testing itself will be dependent on a few variables. These include the type of test, the number of days the test will run for, the size of the team, and the number of active participants in the test. To create a fair budget, you need to be especially wary of time and recruiting costs which includes the compensation for each of the participants. 


It is on these four counts that we can judge if a usability test has been done smoothly. Hopefully, now you have a rough sketch of the many uses of this procedure, the criteria needed for it to be successful, and why it is necessary for any serious development/design team. Usability tests are not simply a recommendation; they are pivotal to maintaining a quality product because they filter out any errors and make the product easier to work with. And this, arguably, is the what makes it most effective. A usability test can be broken up into a few key areas and I will discuss them with each successive article in finer detail. Albeit, however, to be brief – a successful usability test requires the development/design team to develop a solid test plan, recruit able participants, run the test effectively and efficiently, and be able to interpret your findings and report them in order to make the changes needed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S.R.
Schroeder

Founder of Seirim, S.R. focuses on the art and science of web design, cybersecurity and web development tech to help keep driving SEIRIM's projects and abilities forward.

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