What Is Usability Testing and How To Conduct One [2021 Guide]

Stefan Ivanov / Thursday, November 4, 2021

Some apps and websites fail after their initial launch and sink into the void once they meet their biggest critics – the end-users. To avoid this contemporary business and digital catastrophe, make sure to validate the functionality, the ease-of-use, as well as the look and feel of the product that you are preparing for the highly demanding market. How can you do this? Start by carrying out usability testing because this is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure  a far more enjoyable, smooth, efficient, and effective user experience.

In this blog post, we will provide an overview of the testing process, we’ll look at the elements it includes, and we’ll explore different formats in which you can perform a usability study. By the end of the article, you will know:

What Is Usability Testing?

And How Does Everyone and Everything That’s Involved Contribute to the Process?

Usability testing is a method to evaluate a website, an app, or a service by observing the reactions and behaviors of actual users who interact with it in real-time. Usually, the testing can be performed in-person or remotely, using a collaboration app. During the process, participants must complete specific tasks assigned to them by the facilitator.

Key Ingredients of Usability Testing

Before initiating a usability study, you must define the goals and the target group that will be testing your project. Then you move to user recruitment, preparing guidance and tasks, running pilot tests, and lastly getting feedback and summary of the results.

But who exactly is involved in a usability session?


In a usability test, the facilitator provides instructions to participants, administers concrete tasks they should complete, answers questions, observes users’ behavior, collects feedback, and then prepares detailed analysis. The latter includes information on how easily and intuitively the representative group uses the product or website, how many of them struggle with a certain task, which step or design element they least/most enjoyed, and more.


For a usability test to be as effective and insightful as possible, it should include external target users who have already used similar products or have a basic understanding of it. This way the facilitator will be able to draw comparative conclusions more easily and see whether the evaluated software has competitive advantage, what it lacks, or what should be changed. In some test cases, participants may be asked to think aloud while navigating and carrying out tasks across the platform or the website. The idea behind this tactic is to understand the thoughts, decision making process, motives, and behavior of each user.


The tasks represent realistic actions or commands that participants must perform, using the software/website in question. The assignment can be handed in by the facilitator either in the form of a clearly written guide on a paper or it can be read aloud.

What’s The Goal of Usability Testing and Why Is It Important?

Usability testing goes a long way towards ensuring excellent functionality and fulfilment of specific users’ wish list. You may think that its objective is to satisfy your users who test the system/design. But this will always lead to a disappointment and the misconception that whatever you do is wrong. The primary goal of usability testing is, in fact, to help you:

  • Discover issues and malfunctions in your design or prototype
  • Figure out ways to improve it
  • Observe and learn what the target end-users want, like, dislike, find easy or difficult to use
  • Collect qualitative and quantitative data
  • Measure satisfaction of participants regarding your product
  • Analyze results and transform them into redesign recommendations

The moment of satisfaction derives from these key points mentioned above. Once you have made your resolutions based on them, you will be able to create a product that guarantees great performance and usability.

But What Exactly Is Usability?

Let’s pin down this catchphrase. Usability has become a signifier for a product that works well for users. But is it a process or result? Could it be a method or design thinking that resonates with clients and their consumeristic philosophy? Is it all of these combined together?

Here is how we see “usability”.

  • Usability means letting the needs of end-users inform the design.
  • Usability means starting from the user’s point of view.
  • Usability means observing real people interaction with your product, assessing, and drawing informative conclusions.
  • Usability means whether an app/website can be used for its intended purpose.
  • Usability means more than "ease of use" and it revolves around the 5 Es – efficient, effective, engaging, error tolerant and easy to learn.

No matter how great you think your design is, how innovative the project, or how original the icons are, it all comes down to the way users relate with what you give them in the end. But then again, their digital criteria and norms often change with the same speed as the one in which the Generation Alpha learns how to use a new technology. Which means blazing fast! So, it’s hard to keep up and there is a risk that the solution you build may turn out to be far from what users expect, can use, or are excited for in general.

It sounds a bit too dramatic and things do not always unfold this way, that’s for sure. But thankfully, testing how usable your software is brings on several benefits that allow you to easily identify weak points and problems in the design before writing any code. Which in return allows you to achieve user satisfaction early in the design-development process.

And Speaking of Usability Testing Benefits, Here Are the Top Ones 

  • Bias-free opinions that you cannot otherwise have when testing the product on your own or with coworkers.
  • No expensive design and development changes in user flow, layout complexities, confusing website/app elements like misplaced CTA buttons when the product is already released.
  • Direct and insightful feedback from real people and ability to analyze findings or have a detailed report on all the things that don’t click with your target audience.
  • Reduces the risk of product failure.
  • When using remote and unmoderated user testing, opportunity to get feedback from a large number of testers.
  • Test user interactions or different options which are being discussed internally to resolve internal debates and costly iterations.

Usability Testing vs User Testing vs User Acceptance Testing: What’s the Difference?

Sometimes product owners, stakeholders, and even PMs get confused by these terms and consider them to be the same thing. There is a slight (but very crucial) difference between them though.

User testing examines whether a user needs a given app/website. It is possible to do user testing earlier in the design lifecycle, e.g. you can test a paper prototype or validate sketches, ideas, user journeys. It determines the demand and comes before the initial creation of a prototype.

Usability testing evaluates if they can and how they use the app. It determines the ease-of-use and comes after the creation of an interactive prototype.

User acceptance testing (UAT) doesn’t focus on end-users but on clients. They are the ones who perform UAT to ensure that a product meets their requirements and works the way it should be. It determines compliance and comes after the creation of prototyping.

The Different Types of Usability Testing

There are three basic usability testing types and methods which you can choose from depending on your purpose and the data you aim at collecting from testers.

Remote Usability Testing vs In-person Usability Testing

As the name implies, the remote usability testing is a type of testing that is performed from a distance and requires the use of collaboration software or a user testing app. It helps for the recruitment of participants, lets users interact with your software in real time, records video and audio so you can observe reactions and behavior once the testing is complete and draw conclusions more effectively.

When performing in-person usability studies, facilitators and participants are both present and occupy the same physical environment. This type of testing can involve one or many observers, depending on the number of recruited people to achieve more precise monitoring and reports.

Moderated vs Unmoderated Usability Testing

Moderated usability testing can be managed in person or from distance and requires the presence of a trained UX researcher who administers tasks, observes participants, asks/answers follow-up questions, records behaviors. When performed in-person, the testing takes place in a lab or corporate setting. When carried out remotely, participants must access the software and use a collaboration software or a usability testing tool to share their screens and comments.

On the other hand, unmoderated usability testing allows participants to access the system remotely and carry out their assigned tasks. Their behavior, screen activity, voice, and even facial expressions are recorded by an automated software. The biggest difference here is that there is no real-time support or ability to ask questions right away. This method is suitable when you want to test a few specific elements of a prototype/design.

Qualitative vs Quantitative Usability Testing

The quantitative usability study measures error rate and task completion time as related to ease of use. This method is used for generating indirect informative usability testing summaries. Generally, the evaluation is based on key metrics like the time that participants need to complete a task, satisfaction rates, how easy it is for users to complete a task. Here, quantitative data indicates how participants operated and what happened. It involves bigger number of participants – sometimes more than 30.

Things To Do With the Data Gathered No Matter What Usability Testing Method Is Selected:

  1. Measure the usability of the design /app/ website.
  2. Recommend enhancements in design.
  3. Execute the recommendations.
  4. Re-test to assess how effective the improvements are.

In case you want to dig deeper into the usability testing types and all the combinations in terms of the usability methods that can be carried out, this article titled “The different types of usability testing methods for your projects” offers a more detailed overview.

Making the Usability Testing Usable… or What Does the General Process Include?

To extract the maximum value from your usability study and guide the user testing process in the best possible way, here are 10 best usability testing practices to implement.

  1. Identify what needs to be tested and why. Is it a prototype of a new product? A feature or the layout?
  2. Find the perfect recruit. Are you targeting participants who have used similar products? What are the preferred user demographics and psychographics? Do you want 5 or more participants?
  3. Create a test plan and make clear objectives. What is the scope, time, and location? What tasks are going the users to complete? In what order?
  4. Implement learning effects during the user test and use methods like randomizing the sequence of tasks to avoid bias.
  5. Decide upon the metrics which will help you assess the results. Time on task, error/success, subjective satisfaction.
  6. Define roles. Choose appropriate moderator and way to observe participants. Should they express opinion out-loud and give feedback right away while still carrying out tasks? Would you want to record the testing?
  7. Run a pilot test before the real test. See how prepared you are and whether everything is clarified. Ask your colleagues to join.
  8. Talk to test participants after the session for 10-15 minutes. Sometimes it reveals interesting insights.
  9. Analyze and prioritize on the findings and discuss insights with stakeholders. Does your vision match business needs? What design changes should be implemented first?
  10. Put the findings into action. Introduce the required changes to your product design. Make it better.

Usability Testing With Indigo.Design

According to a research by Forrester, every $1 invested in UX results in a return of anywhere from $2 to $100*.  Still sometimes usability testing is seen as too costly and time-consuming. But it doesn’t have to be.

With Indigo.Design, testing the usability and UX of your design/prototype/app is a lot easier, quicker, and cost-efficient. It is packed with tools to enable remote, unmoderated user tests, allow for recording and video so you can watch the actual steps users take, analysis of user data and journeys, and insights on user behavior and their preferences.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Locate a workable prototype to your Indigo.Design workspace and click on New Usability Test option.

starting usability testing in Indigo.Design

One way to do it is by uploading a png, jpg, gif, or Sketch file directly from your computer. Or you can add the Indigo.Design plugin to Sketch and sync your prototypes to the cloud. 

  1. Define task

defining tasks for participants in a usability test

You have to set at least one task to start your usability test. So, click on new task and write a description.

  1. Additional test setting

additional metrics and settings in a usability test

Easily determine metrics, success criteria, and define how tasks should appear to participants – one after another or in a random order. And because details matter, you have the opportunity to include “welcome” and “thank you” messages to the users.

  1. “Start Testing” and get your link

starting your usability test

When you’re ready to start your usability test, simply click on the “Start Testing” button and it will generate a link which you can copy and share with participants.

  1. Review results and get feedback

reviewing results after usability testing

Your Usability Tests dashboard in Indigo.Design will show the results during and after the completion of the usability study. You can review:

  • Success rate
  • Accomplished task
  • Average time on task 

You can check out this blog post on smashingmagazine and see how other people have played around with our software to initiate usability testing.