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An introduction to usability testing

Kathryn WhartonUser Research

Our customers have ranked us #1 in the world for developing apps that meet the wants and needs of their users. And keep them engaged enough to come back time and time again. 

The only way to know if an app is meeting the wants and needs of its users is to carry out usability testing. 

Usability testing is a core part of our web and mobile app development process and ensures our digital products are fit for purpose. 

It shows us the app’s features are performing well and that users are engaging with its content. It also tells us when and where we need to make improvements to deliver a smoother user experience. 

Let’s find out more about how we do usability testing at hedgehog lab. 

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is the process of evaluating your app by observing how real users interact with it. 

We test the wireframes and prototypes created during the design phase by asking real users to complete set tasks or conducting guerilla testing (where we gather feedback in the public domain) to sense check the current design. 

This process is repeated at every stage of development so our mobile app developers and designers can incorporate any feedback or findings from the testing into the next iteration of the app. 

When we do usability testing

Each of our apps begins life in the discovery phase where we learn about its marketplace, audience and the features it requires. At the end of this phase, we have an initial set of wireframes and prototypes created by our designers which are then forwarded to our user experience researchers for testing.

Our product delivery team works together to create user flows that set out the path a user will take to complete a task within the app. Each flow is tested at least two times plus as part of the entire app when all flows are completed. 

Usability testing is an iterative process and continuously informs design until we have a product that is ready to launch. 

Creating usability tests

Once a prototype has been designed, we pass it to the research team for usability testing. But there are a few things that happen before we put the prototype in front of the user. 

  • Testing it for ourselves

The first task of every researcher is to understand the product they are researching. Our researchers test each prototype to get to know how it works, its capabilities and its logic. They will clarify details or flag concerns with designers so they have a fully rounded knowledge of the app’s core purpose and functionality. 

  • Designing tasks

The tasks set during a usability test might appear fairly simple to the user but they are actually a complex set of actions designed to thoroughly assess the app. It is of utmost importance that the tasks are clear and simple but don’t give any hints about the features that the participants are expected to use.

One of the biggest hurdles is finding a way to get a user to access a specific feature without giving them direct instructions to do so. Imagine trying to ask a user to sign up for a newsletter without ever mentioning the words “newsletter” or “email”, for example. We need to test that the app’s design, content and flow encourages users to do this independently. If it doesn’t, we need to make some changes.  

  • Recruiting participants

In parallel to creating the tasks, our researchers recruit participants to their studies. 

We want to test the prototype with people that are most likely to use the end product so we often ask our clients to reach out to their customers directly to be involved in usability testing.

If this isn’t possible, researchers will run the test with staff members from hedgehog lab that match the target audience or go to the public directly. When dealing with the public, our researchers use a short survey called a screener to verify whether the individual meets the typical traits of the target audience. 

 

Testing methodologies

 

Usability testing is tailored to the specific needs of the product and users but there are several proven methodologies for testing apps. 

 

The two main methodologies that we use are: 

 

A/B testing - we present two different versions of the app to users and see which one performs better. This is great for when we want to test a specific feature of an app or want to confirm if a change in design or content has improved usability. 

Hypothesis testing - through user experience research, we can predict how users will behave when using the app. But we need to test these assumptions to make sure they’re valid. Hypothesis testing involves confirming if our assumption was right or wrong by observing how users respond to specific features of the app.

We carry out tests remotely or in-house. Remote testing is where users access the app wireframes and prototypes in their own environment - typically at home, at work or a specific location relevant to the product - and we record their screen so we can watch how they interact with the app. 

This allows us to test how users respond to the app in a natural environment and observe exactly how they interact with it. 

During in-house testing, users come into the hedgehog lab office to access the app wireframes and prototypes. This gives us more control over the testing environment should something go wrong (remote testing sometimes has technical issues that are tricky to resolve at a distance!) and reduces domestic distractions like doorbells or phones ringing. 

One of the key logistical decisions when planning a test is to decide between remote or in-house testing. Our researchers are extremely skilled in both methods and make choices based on the needs of the users and test tasks. 

How we do usability testing

Following the Nielsen Norman guidelines, our researchers aim to run each round of usability testing with five users. This has shown to identify around 85% of the usability issues, diminishing with every further user recruited for that same round. 

The usability tests run on Lookback, a platform that enables our researchers to record how the user interacts with the app prototype and logs their words and facial expressions, both of which are important for the analysis of the overall user experience. Watching users and observing how they behave gives us a much more truthful response than just listening to what users say about the app. Hannah Veltrup, a User Experience Researcher at hedgehog lab, believes this is how we get the best data on usability: “It’s important to watch not just be told by a user how they interact with an app. Watching gives us pure insight into how an audience will engage with the product.”

When the testing round is complete, our researchers watch each test several times noting the performance of every user. The individual findings are aggregated into themes and recommendations that are fed back to the hedgehog lab team and to our clients. This enables stakeholders to make informed decisions about the best approach to solve the identified usability issues with the next iteration of the prototype. 

Get in touch

If you’d like to learn more about how usability testing can improve the performance of your app, contact our team today.