5 Steps to Usability Testing

If you want a usable site, you have to test. Learn how to conduct a usability test in 5 steps.

Step 1: Choose goal-based tasks

What should a user be able to do on this site? (Why are they here?)

Write down the top five user goals on your site. You will use these goals as success criteria.

Step 2: Write scenarios

Once you have decided upon your top five user goals, you can create scenarios to put these tasks in a more realistic context. 

A good scenario:

  1. Provides context
  2. Is based on a goal
  3. Does not have leading or domain-specific terms

Example

Task: Find Yale bikeshare locations

Scenario: Imagine you are a Yale employee1 working at 55 Whitney Ave. You’ve decided to be healthier and more ‘green,’ and your coworker told you about Yale’s bike rentals3 and suggested you find one nearby. Find out if there are Yale bikes near your work2.

  1. Provides context: “Imagine you are a Yale employee”
  2. Is based on a goal: “Find out if there are Yale bikes near your work”
  3. Avoids domain-specific terms: We say “Yale’s bike rentals” instead of “bikeshare” or “Zagster” because we can’t assume our participant knows these unique terms. Using domain-specific terms in our scenario would lead the participant to scan for those words, instead of trying to complete a realistic task.

Essential Resources: 

Additional Resources

Step 3: Find a Location & Participants

Book a quiet room to conduct your study and recruit 3-5 participants.

  • Usability sessions should be held one-on-one with your participants; make sure they sign up individually.
  • Participants should not be familiar with your website. 
  • It is better (but not mandatory) if your participants represent your website’s audience. For example, if you’re developing an app for students, it would be ideal to test your product on students (undergraduate/graduate, from different schools, etc.)

Recruitment Tips

Remember that the only requirement is that your participant has not used your website before. If you are having trouble recruiting: 

  • Stake out where your users are
  • Print flyers
  • Ask your friends and neighbors
  • Offer incentives

Step 4: Practice and Test!

Before the test, practice your script

We use Steve Krug’s usability testing script when we conduct tests. 

Your test script should emphasize the following:

  • We want to see if our site works well for users. It should take about __ minutes
  • We are testing the site, and not you! Don’t worry if you make any mistakes, we’re here to learn from your experience
  • You won’t hurt our feelings, our aim is to improve the site.
  • Please try to think out loud as you do the tasks
  • Ask me if you have questions, but understand that I may not answer them immediately because we’re trying to see how you would complete these tasks if you were on your own
  • We are recording the session. Only our team will see this recording (Consent form)

During the Test

Use your usability testing script with participants, and go through all of the scenarios you create. Make sure to ask your participants to think out loud as they try to complete the tasks.

Screen Capturing

We recommend recording the participant’s screen during testing. That way, you don’t have to worry about taking notes while testing, and you can review the videos over again to see if you missed anything during the session.

Note: If you decide to take screen captures, make sure you receive consent from your participants before you begin the usability session.

Essential Resources: 

Additional Resources

Step 5: Fix the top 3 usability problems

As you go through the usability tests with participants, the most important issues will become obvious to you. For example, if most of your participants click on the wrong button, get confused, or navigate to an incorrect page. 

Write down the top 3 issues you noticed during the usability tests. (You can do this individually or with a team).

Most importantly: Make plans to fix the top 3 issues you identified!

Additional Resources

We recommend reading Steve Krug’s book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy to learn everything you need to know about conducting your first usability test. 

Essential Resources: