Expert Reviews, Usability Testing, and User Research - What’s the Difference

Jason Beres [Infragistics] / Monday, July 12, 2021

User experience (UX) plays an important role in the success of any website or software. If your user experience is poor, then consumers will leave your site and never return.

In this article, we will explore expert reviews, usability testing, and user research - what are they, what is the difference between them, the results that each of these methods offers, and which one is suitable for which scenario.

These questions will be answered in detail:

What is an Expert Review?

An expert review is a process that is used by experts to test websites according to a user’s perspective. Experts can test websites by using their experience and knowledge. In this process, experts walk through a website to spot the bugs and problems in the website and recommend changes for improving the usability of a website when budget and timescales are short for user research.

Expert Review Helps to Identify UX Issues Quickly

Expert UX reviews are also known as a website audit. It is an inspection method that is designed for identifying usability problems available in an online product or service. This review can be performed by a small group of experts, and they will analyze the product to find any potential usability issues. This process is one of the few user-centered methods, but it doesn’t require any direct contact with end-users to perform it efficiently.

Expert Review Methods

There are two methods used in expert reviews:

  • Heuristic Evaluation - A heuristic evaluation is a common method that is used to know if a product is meeting the usability guidelines. However, the outcome of this approach is the identification and prioritization of areas that need improvement. This approach can be used for the complete site or application or just a part of it.
  • Cognitive Walkthrough - This process is used for analyzing the steps that are required by users to perform tasks and interact with the product or system. This method is helpful to identify the user roles and how users can interact with a website to perform and complete the tasks within the system. It is helpful to find any usability obstacles that users can encounter. This method can be combined with the heuristic approach to make a powerful set of findings that can be helpful for the client to make usability improvements to a site or application.

What Makes a Good Expert Review?

An expert review does not only need a methodical and systematic approach to do a good review, but it also involves the knowledge and experience of reviewers in a particular sector. The best way to review every website with its respective tasks and objectives depends solely on an individual basis instead of relying on the checklists. Moreover, analytical data or other information can also be helpful for a good review.

What Can You Find with an Expert Review?

  • Is the content clear, concise, and using plain English?
  • Are calls to action clear and relevant?
  • Are errors and help messages clear?
  • How smooth is the user experience?
  • How easy is it for the users to achieve their goal?
  • Is your site mobile-friendly?
  • Is site navigation working properly?

Advantages of Expert Review

  • It only needs one or two experts
  • The shortest and quickest approach
  • Least expensive
  • No involvement of users required so that you can avoid extra cost, effort, and time need to recruit, schedule, and run sessions.

Disadvantages of Expert Review

  • The reliability and quality of the findings in this process are dependent on the knowledge and experience of the experts.
  • No user involvement; thus, it cannot find the problems that can only be encountered when an expert review is done by end users.

When Do You Need an Expert Review?

Expert review is useful while designing a new interface design and while doing further development of a website or application. However, for a finished system, it is not necessary to perform an expert review. Particularly, when you opt for expert analysis at the early development stages, and continuously, you can ensure the finished product will not go in the wrong direction.

However, an expert review can never be a complete replacement for a usability test with real users. To get both results, it is ideal to use a combination of usability tests and expert reviews.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing helps determine how easy it is to use a product by testing the product with real users. It involves asking users to complete a series of tasks and can be done while a researcher is observing the users or it can be unmoderated. Through direct observation or by recording a user’s steps, a usability analyst can see where users are encountering problems and experience confusion while using a product. If several users encounter the same problem, recommendations can be made to solve the usability issues. This process is helpful to make a product user-friendly and straightforward for  users.

The major difference between traditional testing and usability testing is that usability testing can be performed with the help of actual users of the product. However, traditional testing is usually done by a designer, developer, or project manager. Usability testing doesn’t involve any biased opinions because you get feedback directly from the end-users.

There are different types of usability testing and several reasons why you need to perform usability research.

Why Do You Need Usability Testing?

Design and aesthetics of a product are important to make a launch successful as users these days expect an elegant user experience.

Some websites and applications fail miserably after their launch. To make your product launch successful, be sure your users don’t struggle with these types of questions:

  • Where does a user click next?
  • Is it clear what an icon or button represents?
  • Are there clear calls to action (CTAs)?
  • Are error messages displayed effectively and consistently?
  • Have you allowed sufficient session time before an activity times out?

In software engineering, usability testing helps to identify the usability errors in the systems at the initial stages of a development cycle. It can be helpful for a product to save it from failure.

Goals of Usability Testing

The primary goal of usability testing is to satisfy users while they interact with the system. Here are key parameters to check:



Is the system easy to understand?

Is the system useful for the target audience?

Is the system adding value for the users?

Are images, icons, content, and colors appealing to the users?



Reduce the navigations needed by the user to reach the desired webpage or screen; the use of scrollbars should be limited.

Create uniform page and screen formats

Make it easy for users to search on your application or website.



Avoid using incorrect data like address or contact information.

Eliminate broken links.

User Friendliness


Users should be able to understand the system easily with little training.

Help should be easily available.

Configure the above goals to perform effective usability testing.


5-Phase Process of Usability Testing

The process of usability testing includes the following phases:

  1. Planning - This process is used to determine the goals of the usability test. Having volunteers use your application and record their interaction with the system is not a goal. You will need to know the critical objectives and functionalities of a system. Moreover, you will have to assign tasks to the testers, and they will need to try these critical functionalities. This phase involves the determination of the usability testing method, demographics & number of usability testers, and test report formats.
  2. Recruiting - This phase involves the recruitment of the desired number of testers according to the usability test plan. It can be time consuming to find testers that fulfill your demographic and professional needs.
  3. Usability Testing - This is a phase that involves the execution of usability tests.
  4. Data Analysis - During data analysis, data from the usability tests are analyzed completely to develop meaningful inferences. It can be helpful to provide actionable recommendations for improving the overall usability of the product.
  5. Reporting - This phase includes the findings of the usability test that are shared with all the stakeholders, which can include developers, designers, CEO, and clients.

Usability Testing Methods

There are 3 approaches to do usability / user testing:

  1. Remote Usability Testing / Remote User Testing - In this process, observers and testers can work remotely. Testers can remotely access the system to perform the tasks assigned to them. You can record the tester’s behavior, including voice, screen activity, and facial expressions, using automated software. Observers can analyze these findings and make a report of the test accordingly.
  2. Remote Unmoderated Usability Testing / Remote Unmoderated User Testing - In this process, UX experts, product managers or product owners create user tests that are performed by your user base, just in an un-moderated fashion. Testers can remotely access the system to perform the tasks assigned to them, and the system tracks task completion rate, task flow success / failure, how long it takes to complete tasks and delivers detailed analytics and reporting on the user tests. You can record the tester’s behavior, including voice, screen activity, and facial expressions, using automated software.
  3. In-Person / Laboratory Usability Testing - This process can be done in a separate lab room assigned for testing where observers and testers are present. Testers can work on the assigned tasks for execution. However, the role of the observer is to monitor the testers’ behavior and make a report of the test accordingly. The observer needs to remain silent throughout the testing process. In this testing, both testers and observers should remain in the same physical location.

With COVID-19, we have learned that unmoderated remote user testing is just as effective and powerful as in-person/lab-based user testing. At a fraction of the cost and with the ability to scale very quickly and get to result and analytics much faster.

UX Testing Checklist

The key role of this testing is about finding the critical usability problems before launching the product. Here are the things that should be considered for successful testing:

  • UX testing should be started at the early stages of design and development and should be considered an iterative process.
  • It’s better to perform usability testing on the competitor’s product before you start developing your product as it’s helpful to understand the usability standards for the target audience.
  • Choose the appropriate users for testing the system. You can use a ratio of 50/50 of experts and non-experts to test the system.
  • Make use of bandwidth shaping. For example, users may have poor network connectivity; thus, you can limit your network bandwidth for the usability testers.
  • Testers should focus on critical & frequently used system functionalities.
  • Try to assign a single observer to every tester as this often provides the most accurate observation about each tester’s behavior. Assigning a single observer to multiple testers can affect the results.
  • Tell your developers and designers that the outcome of this testing is not a sign of failure, but that it will help improve the system.

Usability Testing Advantages

Here are the following advantages of usability testing:

  • Direct feedback from the target audience.
  • Helps to resolve internal debates by testing the issue to see the interaction of users with different options that are under discussion.
  • Potential problems and issues can be highlighted before launching the product.
  • Minimizes the risk of product failure.
  • Users will be able to reach their goals easily.
  • Remote and unmoderated user testing can scale to large numbers of testers very quickly, giving the researcher detailed analytics and feedback almost instantly at a very low cost.

When to Use It?

Usability testing can be used at earlier stages for the evaluation of a prototype, design concept, or a completed interface. However, it is ideal to perform usability testing throughout the process of designing so designers can make the changes as problems are identified — not after the software is released when changes are far more costly to make.

What is User Research

When thinking about user research, many people confuse it with classic usability testing. However, as just described, usability testing ensures that a design is easy to use, and it is an important part of user research. User research, on the other hand, is a broader effort that aims to discover all the frustrations and barriers that users can face while interacting with the product. Many different types of user research are important to work in a user-centered process.

We’ll take a closer look at what user research is; then, we will dive deeper into the explanation to know how it can be used in your design process.

User research focuses on understanding the needs and behavior of users with the help of various methods like surveys, direct observation, and task analysis. This process is helpful at every stage of the product design process. It can be used from early ideation to the launch of a product.

There are several methods used in user research:

  • Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research - When considering your target users, you will need to determine which research approach is ideal— qualitative or quantitative. Keep in mind that both approaches are helpful to discover different insights. To get a clear picture regarding user experience, you will need to understand the system's working. You will need to know what is happening in the system and the reason behind it. While using a quantitative approach, you can miss out on some key insights that can be helpful to make a difference in understanding the user experience of a system. However, if you are using qualitative research, it is hard to know whether your findings are representing a larger population.
  • Behavioral Research vs. Attitudinal - Both research types are often confused as being the same, however, they are different and when used together provide you the most accurate results. Attitudinal research helps you understand the biased attitudes or feelings of users regarding their experience. It can be helpful to ask a user about their likes and dislikes regarding the features of your system. However, when you want to understand what the user does, choose behavioral research. They are helpful to know another major difference between qualitative and quantitative methods. Behavioral research can be helpful to tell you about what’s happening, and attitudinal research can be helpful to know the reason why it is happening. However, you should always keep in mind that there is a clear difference between what users do and what they say.
  • Generative vs. Evaluation Research - The goals of evaluation and generative research are different from each other. Generative research helps to define the problem you would like to have a solution for. On the other hand, evaluation research helps evaluate the existing design, such as in the form of a prototype, final, or other.

User Research Techniques

UX Researchers have many different techniques that help them achieve their research goals.

  • Remote Testing - This method makes use of an insight platform to collect the recording of screen, voice, and facial expression of the test participants while they interact with the system and is an excellent option. With the help of usability testing, developers, designers, researchers, and product managers can discover and understand how real people are responding to their systems. It can be helpful to know what users like and dislike about the system, the points where they get confused and stuck, areas of improvement, and valuable insights.
  • Diary Studies - Diary studies are a form of longitudinal research, which involves a longer engagement with the same participants. Normally, users make a self-report of their activities at regular intervals to create a log of their activities, frustrations, and thoughts. It is a great approach to capture organic feedback regarding activities that are long, repetitive, and volatile.
  • Card Sorting - This is a type of qualitative research method that is used to label, group, and describe information more effectively. It is based on feedback from the users or customers. This process needs to generate a set of cards for representing any item or a concept. You can group or categorize these cards in ways that make more sense to your testers. Normally, it is used while designing or redesigning the website navigation or organizing the content within a website because it can help evaluate information architecture.
  • Surveys - Surveys can be a great way to empathize with your users. It can be helpful to get quantitative insights that may not be visible to the managers, developers, and marketers. You need to listen to your customers to find new problems and ideas to solve them. It is easy to collect customer feedback through surveys.
  • Interviews - Live interviews are very helpful in collecting qualitative insights. You can have dynamic discussions to observe verbal and non-verbal cues. However, you can also ask an open-ended question to discover the details that you cannot get via usability testing and surveys. Interviewing is a useful user research method to understand users' complex experiences and feelings because it enables you to ask follow-up questions.

Importance of User Research

The goal of user research is to help organizations create products that provide the right solutions for the target audience, benefiting users and encouraging them to buy or take other desired actions.

Here are three reasons why businesses need to conduct user research:

  1. Designing Solutions That are Relevant to Users - Reading or studying the specific user persona rarely provides designers and product managers with enough insights to design something that the target audience will find more relevant, interactive, and enjoyable to use. In many cases, developing solutions according to the specific needs, priorities, and behaviors of a specific audience requires designers and product managers to work closely with those people beforehand. However, if you fail to conduct user research, it will lead to designing a solution or product that will miss the mark for the target audience.
  1. Developing Products That Users Find Intuitive and Fun - The competition in the market is increasing every day. Therefore, a developed product shouldn’t only be functional, it should also be enjoyable for the users. Users will abandon a product that they find too time-consuming and mentally exhausting to operate. They will eventually find a better alternative. Therefore, conducting user research and understanding the behavior of users is important so that the product team can make products that users will find more intuitive and fun to use.
  1. Developing More Relevant and Compelling Messages for the Market - Finally, user research  helps organizations learn the most compelling ways to develop a product that is intended for the users. Understanding the target audience can be helpful to communicate the benefits of products to the users.

You need to use the right types of user research to get better results. You can survey the target audience and ask them what their favorite feature is, what is their experience has been using your app, how would they rate it, etc. Make sure to ask questions which answers could provide you with further information. Avoid “yes” or “no” types of questions, as they are the so-called ‘’closed questions’’ that do not provide any valuable insights, therefore are not helpful when trying to understand your customers.

Do not ask assumptive questions either. For example, instead of asking ‘’What do you like?’’ ask “Tell me more about your experience’’ – in this example, the first question assumes that the user has a good experience with your product or service which might not be the case.

Advantages of User Research

  • Offers the most realistic understanding regarding users, their behavior, and needs.
  • No prototype or design is required, as it can be done at the beginning of a project.
  • Knowing your users and their behavior can be helpful to design an effective solution that fulfills their needs.

Disadvantages of User Research

  • It needs more time, effort, and cost for recruiting, scheduling, and running sessions with the participants.

Which UX Research Method is Best?

While developing a product, you will need to ensure that the product fulfills the customers’ needs. User research helps to understand the behaviors, attitudes, and needs of the customers with the help of observation and communication to collect feedback. User research is a key part of the product development process, and it can be used throughout.

The following table can be helpful to show the difference between these 3 methods:





When to Use

Expert Review

Helps to identify problems regarding usability, design, and tactics and suggests solutions.

Needs just one or two experts.

Quick Solutions


No cost, time, and effort required for recruiting participants.

Reliability and Quality are dependent on the knowledge and experience of the expert.

It doesn’t help to get feedback from actual users.

Spot and eliminate basic usability and design issues.

Usability Testing

Helps to identify issues and recommends solutions for usability and design issues.

Involvement of actual users.

Identifies problems that are encountered by the users.

It needs cost, time, and effort to recruit participants.

Only spots problems that are related to assigned tasks.

It doesn’t help to get information about the user and their intended use.

For evaluating prototypes, design concepts, and completed interfaces in the form of an iterative design process.

User Research

It helps to get strategic information about users and their specific needs.

It helps to understand the users and their needs to design a powerful product and effective solutions for the targeted audience.

Needs cost, time, and efforts for recruiting, scheduling, and running sessions with participants.

At the start of a project to get a better understanding of users and their needs.


Best Way to Combine Research Methods

You can conduct user research at the start of a project to gain a deeper understanding of the user, their behavior, and their intended use. This helps inform your design based on the results of your research.  You should perform usability testing throughout the designing process, this is iterative and really never comes to an end per-se, you are always trying to learn and understand what will make the user more successful in achieving the task.

For evaluating the existing interface, it is vital to conduct an expert review first for finding and correcting the basic problems. After that, the product can be tested for evaluating the types of issues that can only be encountered by the users.

These three methods can be used together at the right times, and they are powerful ways for developing a good product for a better user experience.

Wrap Up

Expert Reviews, Usability Testing, and User Research are all important to the success of your application lifecycle.  Using the right technique at the right time will give you a better chance of success with your app and users.  To learn more how Indigo.Design and Infragistics can improve the user happiness with your applications, check out the unmoderated user testing features in Indigo.Design.