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Usability Testing vs UX Testing vs User Testing. Which test is best?


Usability Testing vs UX Testing vs User Testing. Which test is best?

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Darren Choong
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In brief

Testing is a vital part of product development. Does it work as intended? Are there usability issues? Is it delivering a positive experience? The potential list of what to test is long, but getting it right means customers know they can trust your business and your product. The question is, what type of test can best ensure this?

In this article, we look at three types that are essential for building a great digital product that meets customer expectations. Usability Testing, User Experience (UX) Testing, and User Testing.

Key takeaways:

Key takeaways:

What each test does and why they’re important: Usability testing measures how a digital product performs and its overall usability. UX testing takes this one step further by testing different areas and elements of your product. What negatively impacts the user? What can be changed to optimize the experience? User testing uses real people to evaluate your product’s design, interface, and functions.

How to determine what’s right for you: While usability testing and UX testing are linked, there are specific differences. Usability focuses on the functionality of a product. Can it connect to the internet? Are menus logical? UX is about less tangible qualities. The product connects to the Internet, but is it too slow? Are these things negatively impacting the experience?

A deeper dive into Usability Testing: We look at the many variants of usability testing, including how its benefits go beyond usability and functionality. It helps you to know your customers better, see your product’s use cases, make improvements, and much more. But when to start? How often to test? By how many people? What changes when testing an app compared to a website?

Measuring results and best practices: Successful testing isn’t random. It’s knowing which build to test, the right environment, when to do it, and how to measure success and failure. Quality metrics must be unambiguous and lead you to conclude whether a product is usable or not. And everything must be precisely planned. Do you have the right tools? The right devices? Are roles fully defined?

Keep reading to discover why testing for usability and the user experience is so essential, how to maximize your testing, and why testing with real people is vital.

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Usability Testing vs UX Testing vs User Testing. Which is best for your business?

If customers feel your website, app, or another digital solution isn’t useable, user-friendly, or useful… it won’t be used. If things are too complicated, don’t function as expected, or do so in a counter-intuitive way, you can expect negative feedback, bad reviews, and lost customers.

Avoiding such issues while optimizing experiences is essential, especially if you want a digital solution that grows your business and puts you ahead of the competition. A happy customer is a loyal, and repeat, customer.

This is where specific, focused, and ongoing usability testing, UX testing, and user testing can make an enormous difference. They make up vital checklists on how to optimize your solutions. But knowing which to use, and when, isn’t so straightforward.

How can you be assured your solution is truly usable in the real world? Great UX design should be nearly invisible, but is yours getting in the way? Can you find actual users to test your solutions or are you stuck in the lab?

The right tests can help ensure you can get those factors right so you can develop a product that your customers will love.

What is usability testing?

Intricately linked with the user experience, usability testing is a method of measuring and quantifying the quality, usability, accessibility, desirability, and user-friendliness of a product with actual users.

Usability testing tools for desktop applications

When doing usability testing in-house, selecting the right tools is essential. You can use a solid and secure platform, such as the Testbirds Nest, or you can select a standalone usability tool.
Some of the most popular, according to Adobe, include:

  • Hotjar – provides heatmaps for web-based interfaces and can integrate with Google Analytics
  • Zoom – enables the automatic recording of video sessions
  • ClickTale – analyze which user actions cause your application to crash

This includes looking at software and physical elements (such as sensors for Internet of Things devices).

By focusing on usage and behavioral patterns, guesswork and assumptions can be removed from the development process. It also provides valuable, and unbiased, insights into the needs, wants, pain points, and expectations of users.

Is the interface and overall architecture logical? Do users know where to click? Are icons understandable? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Is everything consistent and accurate? What areas can be optimized

Usability testing lets you observe and note how a user interacts with your solution and if all functions and features meet their needs and are efficient, accurate, and effective.

What is usability testing within software testing?

Classified as non-functional testing, usability testing within software testing looks at how easily a user can learn, operate, and interact with your solution. This makes it an essential part of the Software Testing Life Cycle. Also, as a black box testing technique, testers require no knowledge of the internal system.

Are processes streamlined? Is its flow clear and logical? Is content relevant and accurate? Are colors, icons, and images appropriate and interesting? Are response times acceptable and are errors correctly diagnosed? Is the GUI correct and consistent?

The forest for the trees

Being able to focus on one task at a time has clear benefits, as is doing something in a familiar way (that is proven to succeed). But both can lead to problems when considering the complexity of a software project and the need to offer new, innovative solutions.

Two phenomena, in particular, can greatly impact a software project. Cognitive tunneling (or inattentional blindness) and operational blindness.

Cognitive tunneling is when you focus intensely on one thing and miss other relevant data. Usability testing enables developers to see their solution through different perspectives. To shine a floodlight on the product rather than a spotlight.

Operational blindness is all about routine. It’s always been done this way. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it (or the German equivalent, never change a running system). That you’re so familiar with something you miss obvious issues and opportunities, especially regarding innovation. With usability testing, real users can mitigate operational blindness by providing a fresh, unbiased, and objective look at your solution.

Why is usability testing so important?

Whether designing, prototyping, or releasing your solution, conducting usability studies and usability tests helps quickly identify and fix any problems that can negatively impact your end users.

Ultimately, this lets you see exactly how your users feel about your solution – their happiness, frustration, annoyance, sadness, anxiety. To know how your solution affects them. And by using real people to conduct the tests, it also removes the problem of operational blindness and cognitive tunneling.

When conducted early, usability testing provides multiple benefits:

Reduce costs. By discovering areas that real users don’t like or that aren’t used, you can remove unwanted features and focus on what’s really needed. If done during the prototype stage, you can better ensure the overall concept is working and see where to invest in future functionalities.

Less support. Discovering and fixing issues before a customer uses your solution means less need for future customer support.

More secure. This happens in two ways. If a product is easy to use and usable, users (whether employees or customers) will use the product as intended and in a way that complements your security . Usability testing makes your solution secure by design. Additionally, it helps you compare your solution to a competitor via unbiased user feedback. That way, you can develop features that improve on any competitive weakness.

Retain customers and boost your conversion rates. Usability testing delivers greater insights into what provides a good or bad experience and where improvements can be made to optimize what works, and fix what turns real customers away.

Optimized experience. Without a positive experience even the most useful product will struggle to succeed. Usability testing with real users helps you uncover issues and gain greater empathy about their needs and wants – and to see things from another’s perspective outside of a lab environment.

What is user experience testing?

User experience (UX) is all about your end user’s interaction and experience with your product, platform, or service. Getting the UX right is essential for success.

The rise of ‘dark patterns’

While most businesses attempt to win customer loyalty (and money) with transparent and personalized services, good support, and beneficial features, others use design elements to deceive customers. These ‘dark patterns’ are used to obscure, mislead, encourage, and deceive app or website users into doing something they didn’t want to do.

Extra items can be added to a shopping cart. The ability to unsubscribe can be hidden and/or made extremely difficult. Giving permission to your contact list can result in everyone being sent spam. The list is a long one:

1. Bait and switch
2. Confirmshaming
3. Disguised ads
4. Forced continuity
5. Friend spam
6. Hidden costs
7. Misdirection
8. Price comparison prevention
9. Privacy zuckering (now mostly done via data brokering)
10. Roach motel
11. Sneak into basket
12. Trick questions

But while website or app developers may see a quick boost to short-term gains, the negative experience of such tactics can lead to distrust and anger, and this inevitably increases churn. It’s best to avoid such design elements.

User experience testing is a method of testing all elements that your users interact with and experience on your app, website, or digital product. UX testing helps you clearly see what is impacting the user experience and more importantly, what can be done to optimize every area of your digital product.

With quantitative usability testing, using real users, anything that can be measured or counted (how many clicks did it take to get to their shopping basket on your site) is recorded and these findings analyzed. Additionally, qualitative usability testing collects data that looks at what can be observed, such as emotions (how did they feel about the purchasing process?).

The ultimate aim of UX testing is to ensure you build products that your customers will love. To turn visitors into customers and loyal customers into brand ambassadors.

Why is UX testing so important?

No matter what your solution’s used for, the user experience (UX) must be exceptional and provide value. As shown by UX researchers, users must feel that your solution is easy to access and use, has relevant content, is aesthetically pleasing (desirable), enables them to find what they need, can be used by a wide variety of people with diverse needs, and is trustworthy.

To achieve this, UX testing with people who closely match your target audience is vital.

A negative experience can directly reduce conversions and stop return visits to a website – research shows that 64% of consumers shop with a competitor after a poor user experience. Meanwhile, apps can be quickly deleted. A pleasant experience brought about by ongoing testing and improvements can change this – and boost sales and user engagement.

The UX testing advantage

  • Compliment data uncovered by your UX researchers
  • Find and fix errors during the development stage
  • Use qualitative data to improve user satisfaction
  • Receive unbiased feedback on what works and what doesn’t
  • Increase retention, engagement, and sales

Usability Testing

Discover how usability testing can help your product provide the total experience.

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What is user testing?

User testing utilizes real people to evaluate your digital solution. How useful is it? Will your intended audience use it? What’s missing? What needs improvement? How did they feel while using it? How long did it take to complete task instructions?

Both usability testing and UX testing are a significant part of user testing. And this makes it a powerful tool for conversation rate optimization campaigns.

With real users testing in realistic conditions, they provide feedback in real-time about their experience as they interact with your solution. This gives you first-hand insights to improve areas of your product and ensure it’s fully optimized and ready for your actual users.

What is user testing for websites?

When looking at websites, testers often utilize a form of Tree Testing, where they’re given a tree-like map of a website and asked to evaluate the navigation (seeing how easily, or not, they move around the site to find something).

Alongside other tests, such as Usability and UX, testers provide valuable feedback to web designers about the online experience. How efficiently can they accomplish tasks? Is the site memorable (that is, can users return and still use it without trouble)? What is their level of satisfaction? How many errors did they encounter and how did they deal with them?

Results enable developers to see if the overall utility is good and to identify strengths and weaknesses in the design, which helps to create a version that best targets their users.

Why is user testing so important?

Do you really know what your users want and expect? Are you certain that your design is easy to understand and navigate? Are you sure that everything is providing a positive experience?

This becomes more difficult to answer when a product is developed in isolation by people who know their solution inside and out. They’re likely to make assumptions on the product’s overall usability and satisfaction levels. With user testing, you can obtain an unbiased view of your product directly from your user’s perspective.

This gives you:

  • A grounded and comprehensive understanding of what customers actually experience
  • The ability to solve issues before your actual users encounter your product
  • Real-time feedback to optimize crucial areas

User testing vs usability testing vs UX testing... Which test is best?

Usability testing, UX testing, and user testing all aim to ensure a smooth and positive user experience. However, there are times when one is more appropriate than the other.

The following table can provide some guidance on which is right for your project.

Usability Testing – think practicality
UX Testing – think emotion
User Testing – think validation

Determines if a user can or cannot do what they need/want to do.

Looks at whether your solution provides a relevant experience to your users.

Validates demand for your solution before it is developed.

Helps to measure the effectiveness and ease of use of your design.

Considers branding, the user interface, usability, content, color, etc., and how it impacts the experience.

Is used to see if your solution actually solves the user’s problem or need.

Is vital in checking that the solution performs as expected, is reliable, accessible, and able to ensure the user can accomplish their goals.

Determines how people feel about the solution at every stage, from unboxing/downloading, to usage, and even to product deletion or return.

Utilizes real people to determine if your solution is useful, usable, user-friendly, and that it provides a good overall experience.

Can help measure the learnability of your solution.

Can build brand loyalty and boost conversions.

Is used to gain insights into the overall design and concept.

  • Determines if a user can or cannot do what they need/want to do.
  • Helps to measure the effectiveness and ease of use of your design.
  • Is vital in checking that the solution performs as expected, is reliable, accessible, and able to ensure the user can accomplish their goals.
  • Can help measure the learnability of your solution.

  • Looks at whether your solution provides a relevant experience to your users.
  • Considers branding, the user interface, usability, content, color, etc., and how it impacts the experience.
  • Determines how people feel about the solution at every stage, from unboxing/downloading, to usage, and even to product deletion or return.
  • Can build brand loyalty and boost conversions.

  • Validates demand for your solution before it is developed.
  • Is used to see if your solution actually solves the user’s problem or need.
  • Utilizes real people to determine if your solution is useful, usable, user-friendly, and that it provides a good overall experience.
  • Is used to gain insights into the overall design and concept.

A Focus on Usability Testing

As any usability study shows, your product must be usable, useful, user-friendly, and used. Much of this comes from comprehensive research of your users and by testing the usability of your solution. With that in mind, let’s take a longer look at how Usability Testing can significantly influence the success of your digital solution.

What are the biggest benefits of usability testing?

It saves you time and money

When conducted early in the development stage (and at every significant step), a huge variety of issues, bugs, defects, consistency problems, performance issues, navigation dead-ends, and more can be quickly identified and fixed. As the product further develops and becomes more complex, this is essential. Fixing issues at later stages is time-consuming, expensive, and can delay the release of your product.

It helps you create a better product

By looking at the entire product or a sample of one (or more) areas, usability testing validates the usability of the software and helps improve the consistency, capability, efficiency, and reliability of your solution. As an ongoing process it helps streamline your product and deliver a greater understanding of what users need.

It also lets you quickly deal with various problems including common page errors (broken links, images not loading), grammar and spelling errors, poor translation, inconsistent branding and layout, overcomplicated tasks, and more.

It optimizes the user experience and boosts conversions

Average users make a judgement on your site or app within a second. That may be all the time you have. With usability testing you can smooth out processes, remove obstacles and errors, minimize steps, improve your interface, and ultimately create a solution that delivers a positive and engaging experience. One that lets users do what they set out to do.

What are the three types of usability testing?

Depending on your product, your needs (and those of your users), and your goals, a specific usability testing methodology is better suited than others. Let’s consider three of the most used.

Quantitative Usability Test

This test is all about numbers and facts, not assumptions. Based on established UX metrics on a given task (success rate or task-completion time), data is collected about the performance of the task and the user’s experience while doing them.

Moderated Usability Test

A moderated usability test (in person or remote) lets you get into the user’s head as they interact with your product and navigate typical use cases, such as finding a product on your site. You can then watch them in real time and compile a detailed list of usability feedback.

Unmoderated Usability Test

Sometimes you need an unfiltered view from your user’s perspective. With fully remote unmoderated usability testing, your target group is recorded performing a variety of use cases while thinking out loud. Everything can then be rewatched for further details.

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What are the most common usability testing methods?

Moderated or unmoderated, remote or in-person, the testing method and research methodology you use depends on a variety of factors, including your goals and the number of available resources.

All, however, fall under one of four criteria: Moderated / in-person testing, moderated remote testing, unmoderated remote testing, and unmoderated in-person testing.

Popular remote methods include:

  • Moderated phone/video interviews, where a facilitator / moderator instructs testers to complete tasks on their device while receiving and recording feedback.
  • Unmoderated session recordings that use software to monitor and record the actions of a user as they navigate and interact with your digital solution.

Popular in-person methods include:

  • A moderated lab usability testing session typically takes place in a specifically built testing lab where testers complete tasks on specific devices as the facilitator monitors, asks questions and follow-up questions
  • Unmoderated observation, where a facilitator monitors the tester’s actions, body language, and facial expressions as they complete a set of instructions.

How do I perform remote usability testing?

There are several processes to consider when conducting a remote usability test.

  1. Define your goals (what to test, how to measure success, etc.) and target users.
  2. Decide whether the test is moderated or unmoderated.
  3. Establish use cases/tasks/questions and write your test script.
  4. Run a pilot test to ensure all equipment and materials are ready.
  5. Recruit your testers, who should closely match your target users.
  6. Set up an appropriate and secure testing platform.
  7. Conduct the test.
  8. Analyze the data and summarize the results.

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What are some common questions in usability testing?

Producing relevant, clear, and hard to misinterpret questions is essential to capture unbiased and objective data about the usability of your solution. Your aim is to gain deeper and better insights into how the tester uses your product, how they feel about it, and how well they understand your solution. That means questions must be specific, relevant, concise, and stimulate conversation (if required).

Best practices when outsourcing your usability testing

Running your own usability testing is a big, complicated, and potentially expensive project. Especially when your staff can’t take on more projects. One good solution is to outsource your testing.

If that’s the direction you go, there are a few things to consider.

  • Do your due diligence utilizing appropriate research methods. Are they specialists in usability testing? Does the vendor have experience in your field? Can they be engaged for the time you need? Can they effectively communicate with your teams?
  • Assign a dedicated project manager to act as liaison between your internal teams and the vendor
  • Define clear objectives and develop a detailed proposal, which includes timeframes and expected deliverables
  • Interview the vendor (or vendors) in-depth. Are they a good fit for your business? Do they understand your goals and users? Can they deliver results ‘immediately’? As they’ll make up your testing panel and will be tasked with test facilitation, you must be 100% they’re the right fit. That also means ensuring the vendor studies qualitative usability.

Questions must also be considered for more than the test.

  • Screening questions help with your testing selection process (if your app locates charging stations, it’s worth asking ‘do you drive an electric car?’).
  • Pre-test questions show how the tester uses such solutions and their overall experience with them. This helps you filter out people who don’t match your requirements or know enough about your solution.
  • Post-test questions let you clarify anything that wasn’t clear, ask any questions you may have missed, and see what their overall experience was like with your solution.

But in-test questions provide the most information to optimize you solution.

Ideally, they should be qualifying (if focusing on the user experience – how do you feel about ‘this’) and/or quantitative (if you want specific and detailed insights – how many clicks did it take) and be open-ended. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ provides far less information than a question that encourages conversation about your solution.

Additionally, don’t ask leading questions because they can influence decisions. Don’t ask ‘do you like our excellent new design’ (the word excellent can lead to bias), ask ‘how would you rate our new design?’.

Examples of in-test questions:

  • How intuitive was the login process for you?
  • How clear is the page?
  • What was your overall experience when navigating through the app?
  • Do the images help you understand the content?
  • Did you find the information you were looking for?
  • Can you tell me what you think of the icons?
  • What did you think of the checkout experience?
  • I noticed you (did something). Can you tell me why?

How many participants are enough in a usability test?

Many factors influence how many participants to use for a usability test:

  • Your budget.
  • Who makes up your user group (or groups).
  • The scope of your test (the more complex and number of areas to investigate may require more people).
  • The type of test (quantitative data is best if you use large groups).
  • How many tests you want to run.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. However, one cited paper’s basic findings were that ‘80% of usability problems are detected with four or five subjects’. But if your solution is complex and you want its usability to be unmatched, it’s best to consult with an experienced testing provider.

How do you decide what to test in a usability test?

This depends on your usability goals, the development stage, the type of change, customer feedback, questions you’ve asked, and the digital solution you’re building.

With a usability testing study, the primary goal is to create a frictionless solution. Anywhere there is friction (or the potential for it) should be tested. Is your app constantly disconnecting from a smart device? Is a process overly complicated?

If you’ve decided to use new colors, test that there are no accessibility issues for color-blind users. Perhaps someone from marketing wanted to know what’s the first thing someone will do once they open the app? Maybe you’re seeing a sudden drop in conversions. Can people find your new shopping cart?

When would be a good time to start usability testing?

The best time was yesterday, the second-best time is now.

A good rule of thumb is to test during the initial design, after every change, when there’s uncertainty with the design, and on a regular basis. The digital world is rapidly evolving and keeping up often means making ongoing smaller changes to stay fresh and relevant.

What should I pay attention to while performing usability testing?

When even the smallest move or the most throw-away comment can reveal important data about usability and the experience, you need to pay close attention to their answers (which can trigger more questions and reveal areas not considered), their body language, facial expressions, overall behavior, and how they interact with your solution.

It is also important to consider the measurable things. For example, how quickly do they finish tasks, and how many errors occurred from misunderstanding the software?

And keep your overall goals in mind. That the designed purpose of your product meets the user’s needs and expectations. That features and functions are clear. Navigation is logical and easy.


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Why are website usability testing methods important?

For an optimized site that ensures visitors can easily achieve their goals and have a good experience, usability testing is vital. Good usability means a website is easy to understand and fast to access, has an appropriate (pleasing) look and feel, relevant and meaningful content, effective and frictionless navigation (that isn’t confusing and/or with broken links), and has appropriate error handling (such as correct error messaging).

It’s also important to keep in mind that your website is often the only point of contact people have with your business. If it isn’t usable, it won’t be used.

This rings true across all industries, whether BFSI, manufacturing, retail, and beyond. All can benefit from prioritizing seamless web experiences in their respective domains.

How to conduct usability testing for a website?

Effective website usability testing looks at the efficiency, effectiveness, and ease-of-use (satisfaction) of the site. Are there challenges to visitors achieving their goal (purchasing an item), can visitors understand everything and get where they need to go, are load times reasonable, are links broken, do images open, and were they happy with their journey?

Depending on what you want to test, you must decide whether to test the entire site, specific pages or sections, and/or if you need a task-based test (can they easily go from your product page to your shopping cart?).

Then select your testers, decide whether the tests are moderated or unmoderated, and if they’ll be remote or in-person. If remote, you can give testers access to your test site or monitor them via a usability testing platform, which records what the tester does, collects data, and helps you interpret the data to generate insights.

What are some types of website usability tests?

What are some types of website usability tests?

We’ve already covered a few, including video interviews, quantitative, and unmoderated or moderated, but there are more!

First Click – lets you see what a visitor clicks on first when trying to complete a specific task

5-Second Test – users are shown your page (user interface) for five seconds and asked what they can remember about the layout

Eye-tracking – enables you to visually see where visitors are looking when on your site, what grabs their attention or not

Tree Testing – helps you to evaluate the hierarchy of your website and see how easy is it for visitors to find information

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How to do usability testing for mobile applications?

While the majority of mobile testing is the same as website testing, the difference is the use of mobile devices. This means that beyond defining goals, developing use cases, selecting testers, and running the tests, you need to consider where and when to test, what operating system and version to test on, and which devices to use.

Ideally, testers will use their own familiar devices and test in real-world conditions. The more realistic the testing, the better. You can then use a variety of tools to record what the user does and find answers to your questions. From browser-based mobile recorders that record what the user does with the app, to mirroring the phone to a computer using specific software, or using cameras that connect to the phone or are placed on a table.

Collate the data, analyze, and report.


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How to measure usability test results?

To determine the usability of your digital solution (its efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction), you need to turn to your usability and UX metrics.

For effectiveness:

  • Completion rates (task success) – did a user successfully complete a task (binary success – yes or no) and also partial successes (levels of success – they found the item, but it was the wrong color)?
  • Number of errors – while completing a task, how many errors did they make to get there?

For efficiency:

  • Task time – how long it took to complete a task (too long and they may leave)

For satisfaction:

  • Task-level satisfaction (single ease question) – how difficult/easy was the task?

Then combine everything into a Single Usability Metric (SUM) to standardize your metrics and gain a single usability score to use in your report.

How to integrate usability testing with sprints?

As a first step, recruit testers that closely resemble your customers so that during usability testing, results are more accurate. Ensure they are available during the duration of the sprint.

Best practices when recruiting usability testers

  • Plan out your recruiting criteria – find out everything about each participant, how many to recruit, and draft screening criteria (job position, experience)
  • Speak to and conduct surveys with your system/development/marketing teams to understand their needs
  • Find out all you can about the solution being developed
  • Determine the best incentives – monetary and non-monetary (gift vouchers, etc.)
  • Decide how many participants you need to recruit
  • Look at different avenues to find people – from social media, sites like ‘Craigslist’, visitors to your own website, set up a focus group, and if it’s all too much, consider using a global community of crowdtesters!
  • Have each candidate fill out a qualification/screening questionnaire (age, income, education, do you have a functional microphone, computer, phone, etc.?)
  • Set up a ratings system to track testers for future projects and to monitor ‘no-shows’ and develop clear testing guidelines

As developers will make constant changes during this time, speed, agility, and availability are essential. Once ready, focus on putting together your testing article (prototypes, wireframes, etc.) and test at least one step ahead of your development team. Provide that feedback to your development team.

Now you can start testing areas that are more or less fully functional. This is where in-person or fully recorded video sessions are most useful.

Finally, as the sprint’s final day appears and all coding is finished, the ‘final’ version can be fully tested for usability. Again, results can then be passed on to the team – preferably from someone with experience analyzing usability testing results.

Do you use repeat testers for usability testing?

Yes. Using repeat testers enables you to see how new updates affect regular / frequent users of your product.

However, to avoid operational blindness from too much familiarity, it’s always good practice to bring in new testers.

Final thoughts

Whether it is usability testing vs user testing, if your plan is to create a truly memorable and widely used digital solution, usability and UX testing must become a significant part of your development cycle. It isn’t just another checkbox to tick along the way.

It is critical to ensuring your digital solution is successful.


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