Planning a usability test

The first step in the creation of a usability test is the elaboration of the plan to follow as the test takes place. The plan's objective is to ensure that you cover all your product's aspects in order to reveal the difficulties that it could present its users. To do this, you have to determine your key performance indicators, the number of participants, as well as the scenarios and the questions you will present them with.

Usually, this part of the process is carried out through a collaboration between the different teams involved in the product's conception, development and marketing. Together, the teams formulate the issues they wish to solve and create a common document to list them all.

To plan a usability test, you need to define the following elements:

The test's objectives
Researching approach
The test moderator
Types of participants – How to select your participants
List of tasks – (Available template in Odaptos App)

These elements will allow for a structured study and ensure that the resulting data is trustworthy.

Who to choose as the test moderator?

The moderator is crucial when it comes to carrying out a usability test. If your organization does not include a team or a person dedicated to the user experience, we will present you with a list of options as to who in your team is best qualified to endorse this role.

Please note that it is not advised for the product creator to conduct the usability tests. It is inherently difficult to remain impartial about your own product and to avoid guiding the participants, even unconsciously. Of course in practice, if the creator is the only person available to carry out the test, it remains a possible option.

In the words of the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) Testing is always better than no testing.

Among the usual work-positions existing in a structure, we have identified the following as the ones best suited to become the test moderator:

Social, Behavioral specialist, UX Designer

Because of their ability to analyze humans, they are the candidates of choice to perform these tests and to bring out concrete leads on what needs improvement.

Marketing Specialist

Qualified marketing specialist would also be good moderators. They are user-oriented and know your product offer, so they would be able to ask the participants the right questions.

Technical Writer

This profile can be a fit as well. Technical writers could carry out usability tests because they possess a global vision of your project, your industry and they know how to present a product to the end user.

If none of these profiles is available to you, you can also ask a colleague who does not work directly on the project but who is in the same marketing sector to carry out the test. Once the test is prepared and its tasks planned, you can hand it over to them. This way, the test has no risk of suffering from bias. You can then return the favor by carrying out their product's usability test.

Required characteristics and skills

  • Good learning ability
  • Listening skills
  • Good human relation skills
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • Good communicator
  • Effective organizer and coordinator

Finding the rights participants

Selecting your participants is an essential part of the usability testing process because your test results entirely depend on it. To successfully complete this stage, you need to have identified your product's target. This target corresponds to your “personaes”, which have usually been established at the beginning of a project.

Finding pools of participants

Now that you have identified your target, you can start soliciting your future participants. Here is a list of potential sources:

To begin, you can start working with your co-workers. You can start figuring out what your exploration zone is and make the first adjustments. The collected data will be interesting to use, though it will undoubtedly be very different from the one you get from your end users. Mainly because of their affiliation to corporate culture/the company's culture/the organization's culture, and because of what they know of the product, the data will inevitably be biased. But in spite of this these participants serve as a viable additional source of material.

Your family and friends can also be a good pool of participants if they share characteristics with your target. In that case, it is advised that one of your co-workers or partners carry out the test so as not to let your personal relationship affect the results.

Your existing clients are experienced testers who are familiar with your products and who will provide you with clear leads on what needs improvement. It is however still necessary to find targets who have no experience using your products in order to acquire contrasted views. When prospecting for clients, do not forget to mention that your prospecting is not part of a marketing strategy, but rather part of the improvement process of your future product and of the overall user experience.

Associations. If you or your partners are part of associations, you will probably be able to find people who fit your target. These groups might also manage blogs or forums on which you can do your prospecting.

Your professional network, your partners and the participants who have already been tested. You can ask your network and your partners if they know people in their own circles who fit your target and are willing to participate in a test for your product. Finally, do not hesitate to ask your participants if they know other people in their circle who might accept to be part of the study.

How many tests do I need to run?

According to the NN Group studies, you can start by carrying out a quality study by having 5 persons participate in the usability test. These tests should allow you to understand up to 80% of your product's issues.

Once these issues are solved, so start collecting quantitative information, you can involve up to 20 additional participants to understand in more detail what the user journey is like or how functionalities are handled.
Study from the NNGroup

Thanks to our tool you can run these quantitative tests in a simple, efficient and cost-effective way.
The more you increase the number of participants, the more issues you will be able to identify and fix.

Create a Scenario

It is common practice to put a scenario in place for your test in order to introduce the participants to the context you have pre-defined. This scenario, which should be a few lines long, will allow them to immerse themselves in the use of your Product's/Service's, in a range of usage that is neither too large nor too narrow.

“You wish to use the new version of your company's messaging program. To accomplish this, you will create a user account and use the messaging program's main functionalities in order to familiarize yourself with them.”

The goal of this test is to identify usage issues. You have to focus your attention on creating essential tasks for your product, because the more defined these tasks are, the more efficiently and quickly you can troubleshoot your product's usage issues. Such tasks are:

  • exploring potential problems linked to usability
  • based on your interests and experience
  • the ones that the participants will accomplish with your product
  • derived from other criteria

Based on this list, you can elaborate a guiding thread which will lead participants through their user journey.

Here are some examples of the tasks that need to be carried out in order to test a messaging service:

  • Create an account on the platform
  • Log onto the inbox
  • Create a new message
  • Save a draft
  • Modify a draft
  • Attach a file to the message
  • Send a message
  • Forward a message
  • Delete a message
  • Find a deleted message
  • Create labels to sort messages
  • Move messages to different folders
  • Sort messages in a folder
  • Select all messages in a folder
  • Set up an automated filter for incoming messages
  • Tag messages as 'Read'
  • Log out

It is crucial to organize these tasks following the order in which the participant is likely to carry them out. This will make them easier for your user to understand.

It is also preferable to ask the questions that matter to you the most at the beginning of the test, so that they can benefit from the participant's maximal attention and are sure to be answered in the test's allotted time.

“A good task is a task that allows you to detect usability issues.” - “A Practical Guide to Usability Testing” by Joseph S. Dumas

In order to efficiently frame your test, it is best to create “sub-scenarios” for each of the tasks you have listed. These scenarios will contextualize the steps of the test and guide your participants.

These scenarios must be short (no more than two lines) and phrased in the participant's everyday language (and not in the technical jargon used by developing teams).

A good scenario gives enough information for the user to be able to understand and carry out the task you have planned for them.

Make sure, however, that you are not giving away too much information when you describe the task, as it could influence the test results.

Useful resources:

234 Tips and Tricks for Recruiting the Right Users as Participants in Usability Studies
- NN Group

How to Conduct Usability Studies - NNGroup

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How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests - Jeff Rubin, Dana Chisnell

A Practical Guide to Usability Testing - Joseph Dumas, Janice Redish

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The Design of Everyday Things - Don Norman

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience - Mihaly Csikszentmihaly