With more and more businesses making a digital presence with their own websites and mobile applications, the scope of usability testing is nothing short of formidable. Most businesses which lack an efficient IT department are at a loss when it comes to usability testing especially because it involves the complex challenge of understanding the user. Let us discuss how to ask the right usability testing questions to make your task a cakewalk.
The Basic Questions
Usability can be understood as the measure of a product’s potential to be user-friendly. Usability testing determines the ability of the product or application to meet user needs and expectations. In this testing technique, the testers assess different parameters like the flow, navigation and layout, speed and content usually related to similar products or applications. The main advantage of performing usability testing is that the company can discover potential drawbacks in their application so that these can be rectified prior to the actual release of the application to its actual users.
Usability testing is usually done with representative users acting as participants who try to complete a list of typical tasks while testers acting as observers watch, listen and take notes. The test participants are encouraged to think aloud and express all their views and opinions. The test can be carried out formally in a usability lab with audio-visual recording or informally with no recording equipment but with experts making pen-to-paper observations.
Usability testing becomes comprehensive when it covers nine attributes viz. learnability, memorability, efficiency, errors, effectiveness, simplicity, user satisfaction, comprehensibility and learning performance.
At an elementary level, a usability test should compulsorily answer the following basic questions:
- How easy is it for the user to use the application?
- How simple is learning the application?
- How much does the end user like the application?
The first question can be understood better if divided into the following questions:
- Are the participants able to complete the specified tasks successfully? (Effectiveness)
- How long does it take to complete the specified tasks? (Efficiency)
- How many errors do the users make? (Errors)
The second question can be further understood through the questions given below:
- How easy is it for users to complete the specified tasks for the first time? (Simplicity and Comprehensibility)
- Is the user able to remember enough to use the application effectively when they return the next time or do they have to start all over again learning everything? (Memorability)
- Are the users able to recover from the errors they made the first time? (Learnability and Learning Performance)
The third basic question measures the user satisfaction and welcomes user feedback through questions given below.
- How satisfied are the participants in your scale of measurement? (Satisfaction)
- Which features and elements did the user like?
- Which features did the user dislike?
- Which are the areas where the user felt improvement is needed?
- What are the opinions and suggestions that the user gave?
Take note that usability testing is best used along with a user-centric design where the application was actually designed according to user needs and specifications. The use of user-centric design makes it easier through usability testing to understand what elements and features failed to meet the user expectations that were already specified by the users and identify those aspects that were overlooked by the user-centered framework.
Putting into practice
Any framework for testing should answer what is to be tested, where the test will occur, how it will be executed and what the outcome will be. In usability testing, we test the nine attributes given above and testing happens in a formal or informal environment as aforementioned. Now we need to focus on how it will be carried out.
The first question that pops in mind is how do we learn about our customers?
Testers can work closely with usability designers to learn about the customers mainly through personas and user value stories. Personas are stereotypical users who represent needs and expectations of their respective user groups. User stories are short and specific description of the requirement by the users themselves. User value stories reveal whether the interaction with the application made them achieve value or not. These two tools are helpful in framing user-centric test scenarios.
After the test cases are developed from the attributes and tools we need to consider the methods/ approaches of usability testing. Creating an on-site test lab is the best solution for controlling the test coverage and moderating the test. Field testing, on the other hand, provides an opportunity to test in context.
All this is well and good, but you should never overlook the skill set of the testers and other people involved in the usability testing while focusing too much on design and execution. Testers definitely need to have the ability to understand the needs, expectations and values of the users but that is not enough to develop effective usability questions. The testers need to be highly focused on the users throughout the test cycle and possess skills like patience, openness to suggestions and ideas and undoubtedly good observation skills coupled with the enthusiasm to spot and fix issues and problems.