Top Five Mistakes in Usability Testing

In recent years, web usability has become more than a buzzword. Usability and user experience work is worth the time and resources since it provides a significant return on investment (ROI). Design agencies around the world use usability and user experience as a way to gain credibility and stamp of approval. Although business investment in usability is growing, highly functional user experience design requires a deep understanding of user behavior, business model, and process at hand. Project stakeholders often ignore constraints on resources and importance of developing optimal sample size for user groups. Also, some companies tend to get consumed by the fact that they are doing usability testing but do little to ensure that usability tests produce quality results.

In this article, we focus our attention primarily on five critical mistakes that often derail usability testing and introduce process inefficiencies.

Heuristic Process

Project teams have a large number of tasks to accomplish, and at times they rely on heuristic techniques to usability testing. Remember, heuristics are not a deliberate choice. They are biases that creep into decision making without our knowledge. Usability testing is all about gathering data and leveraging it to develop an efficient approach to problem-solving. Heuristic techniques rely on short-cuts to arrive at decision points quickly at the expense of accuracy. Usability testing should help in making informed decisions and heuristic approach usually result in missed opportunities and poor outcome.

Information Gaps

Most often, usability testing processes do a poor job of defining what is being tested and why. In addition, team members are often confused about the purpose, process and overall expectations. Lack of information can compound the problem even further. To deliver meaningful results, teams should operate in an environment where information flows freely.

Scope Definition and Participants

It is impossible to manage something that is not defined. Teams often struggle to identify end users and user groups during usability testing. If user sample has a significant variance when compared to real users, the outcome is going to be less than desirable.

While tangible attributes drive the participants’ selection process, it is critical to not lose focus on non-tangible aspects such as user behavior and environment variables. It is essential to have clear directions to participants since ambiguity can introduce significant variation in the final results.

Test Execution

Planning is important but in the end, it is the execution that matters. The skills profoundly influence usability testing effectiveness that a project lead has. This is one skill that is developed with practice and not something that can be taught in a classroom. A good UX project lead/facilitator can get the most out of participants in a limited time.

Understanding UX Test Results

Usability tests provide datasets and results that must be interpreted accurately. However, very few UX teams have the skills to consume test data and identify meaningful decisions. Common issues such as framing bias can ruin a good usability test. Remember usability testing is done to determine potential problems but it doesn’t provide any solutions. A team must be able to understand issues identified during usability testing and select the best possible solutions to rectify them.

Usability testing is a serious investment of time and resources and requires methodical planning and execution. A highly experienced and cohesive usability team should be able to use an iterative approach to achieve the desired outcome with optimal use of time and resources. In addition, a team should have well-documented procedures to learn from its mistake by monitoring its techniques and integrating testing feedback into future testing.

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