#UsabilitiesUnleashed: How to Create and Run Usability Tests

#UsabilitiesUnleashed: How to Create and Run Effective Usability Tests

Alright, alright, alright! Time to sink our teeth a bit deeper into this whole usability testing thing. This post is part two of the 3 week series, #UsabilitiesUnleashed!

Here’s what you can expect from this series:

  1. The Importance of Usability Testing for Your Business
  2. How to Create and Run Effective Usability Tests
  3. How to Save Thousands of Dollars When Usability Testing

#UsabilitiesUnleashed: How to Create and Run Usability Tests

So now that we’re starting to feel a bit more comfortable with the concept of user testing, let’s get into the nitty gritty. How do you run usability testing or a usability study? What does it take to set one up? What kind of resources do you need?

During my time as a UX designer at RetailMeNot, I spent a whole chunk of time preparing, planning and running usability studies. It is definitely time consuming, but when planned the right way, you can learn a whole lot from usabilities.  

1. Set a date

The key to running a successful usability test is to plan well in advance. You’ll want to give yourself ample time to prepare everything you need for a fruitful study. If you’re running the study solo (Startup life, anyone?), my recommendation is to give yourself at least 2-3 weeks of lead time, depending on how involved the concepts you’re testing are. If you’re going to get real value out of the study, you’ll need to be a bit organized. What they say is true: proper preparation prevents poor performance!

2. Find a moderator or research team

A moderator is someone who asks the questions and conducts the one on one interview with your participants. Ideally, this person is a 3rd party moderator who doesn’t have any ties or attachment to the product.

At RetailMeNot, we had an excellent research firm called OneSpark that we worked with who helped us get feedback from our users. They were a neutral 3rd party who didn’t work on building the product, so they weren’t biased when they interviewed our participants. This meant that we got true, honest feedback on our product experiences.

Often, when working with a research firm like OneSpark, you’ll be able to bypass a few steps in the usability testing process. For example, you probably don’t need to set up a room for the usability testing or gather equipment. Often with these types of firms, they have the equipment and setup all ready to go in their own space!

3. Secure an interview space

For companies that are able to hire a research firm or professional moderator, they usually don’t need to worry about getting a space for the study. In the off chance, that you do need to find a lab or room for usability testing, you can probably rent one out in your area.

I recommend that you make sure the room you are using isn’t branded with your logo or brand colors so that you have a neutral testing space for your participants.

4. Get the prototypes ready

There are many ways to build prototypes for your product or service. You can test a live product, or you can mock up a prototype that looks real using a product like InVision, Axure, or Principle. If you’re pretty early in concept testing, I recommend not worrying too much about the UI of the product itself. Often, at this stage you’re still trying to validate the experience and make sure it’s a possibility. It doesn’t make too much sense to spend your time on the bells and whistles yet.

5. Prepare a planning document or script or usability guide

This is probably one of the most important steps in the process to creating a usability test. I recommend reading up a bit on this before trying to put one together. Most planning documents or script guides provide the layout and questions that will be asked during usability testing. These questions can be influenced by the researcher, designer, product manager, or engineer. I recommend beginning all planning documents by stating the objectives of the usability test. This way anyone else who helps plan the study knows what success looks like for this round of usability testing.

Here is an example of a planning document I created a few years ago for RetailMeNot. I’ll be going through how to create a script and usability guide in a future e-course.

6. Recruit participants

So when working with a research firm, there is a chance that they may also do the recruiting of study participants for you as well. If that’s the case, I highly recommend you do that, if not, you can always hire a recruiting firm. There are several companies out that that specialize in usability test recruiting.

What a recruiting company will do for you is gather all of your requirements for participants and actually go out into the world and find people that meet those requirements. They will then screen the participants and gather information to see if they are a match. Finally, they will select final participants and schedule a time on the designated day for usability testing.

As a product development team, you and your colleagues should consider the following when setting participant criteria:  

  • Do you want to speak to new users or existing users of your product?
  • What is the age range you are looking for?
  • What type of background should your participants have?
  • Are you trying to talk to people who are part of your products target audience? Or are you trying to talk to people who are not yet part of your target audience?
  • What kind of technology or devices do they use?
  • What type of income do they make?
  • What type of profession are they in?
  • What ratio of female to male participants do you want?

And the list goes on…

7. Decide on an incentive

The most successful studies have some type of incentive or gift they give to participants to thank them for their time. The most common gifts I’ve seen are a Starbucks or Amazon gift card. Some companies give away Visa gift cards as well. At RetailMeNot, we would gift our participants a $100 Visa gift card. Typically, this is a good price point for a usability testing gift; it makes participants feel like it is worth their time to come and give you feedback.

8. Finish the last minute stuff

The day before usability testing, make sure that you have everything you need. Make sure the research team or the moderator have the most recent version of the usability script or guide. Ensure that all your prototypes are working and ready to go!  I also recommend sending your participants a confirmation text message the night before the study to remind them with the time and location of the study.

9. Conduct the study

It’s showtime! Let the study begin! When you are working with a research team or moderator, make sure that they are recording the usability testing so that you can review it later. Many firms will actually broadcast the test live to a remote location where you and your team can observe and take notes in real time. This type of real-time viewing is helpful for you because you can always be in touch with the moderator and make sure that the testing is going as planned.

Take as many notes as you can while the usability testing is happening. I also recommend going through at the end and making a shortlist of highlights and notable moments you observed during the study. It’s always a good idea to capture information and findings while they are still fresh in your mind!

So there it is! These steps are just the high-level overview to running usability testing. I could probably go into each one of these steps with their own dedicated post! (Maybe I will…) Following these nine steps will help you and your team yield the user feedback you’ve been looking for. This type of authentic user input can set your business and your products lightyears ahead of the competition!

All you have to do is work the process!

Keep an eye out for the final post in the #UsabilitiesUnleashed series! Here’s what you’ll find in the series:

  1. The Importance of Usability Testing for Your Business
  2. How to Create and Run Effective Usability Tests
  3. How to Save Thousands of Dollars When Usability Testing

In the meantime, I’d love to know…

What product or feature could your company run usability testing for?


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