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Usability Testing 101

Usability Testing 101

When testing an application, there are many approaches we can take. Apart from the usual functional testing, with which many of us are usually more familiar and comfortable, there are also the non-functional testing techniques we should cover. In this article, we’ll focus on the usability testing technique πŸ”

What Is Usability Testing?

Usability means how easily the software can be used by the intended audience, and how attractive it is. It can be done by a representative set of users, who perform typical tasks while being observed. The goal is to discover any usability issues, collect data, and establish the level of satisfaction with the product among the participants.

Usability testing enables researchers to identify any issues with their product’s user experience, discover how to address these issues, and finally assess if the product is useable.

It can also give great insights into the end user’s needs. Sometimes we may think that we are developing really cool features, we test them and they work great – but the users don’t actually need them, or they are not intuitive and user-friendly.

Usability testing ensures the features are user-friendly
Source: https://www.theuncomfortable.com/

Detecting and resolving these flaws early on saves the organization both time and money. Developers don’t have to rewrite the code of an already-built, poorly planned product, and the product development team is more likely to release it on time 🎯

Benefits of Usability Testing

The most important advantages of usability testing are:

  • Confirming the app meets the expectations: With usability, you receive direct feedback from your audience.
  • A better understanding of the users’ needs: It can help you better understand what the users actually use in the application and why they use it.
  • Provide stability: It uncovers defects before the launch to production.
  • Identify complex flows: With usability testing, it’s easier to see if complex flows are intuitive and easy to use.
  • Catch minor bugs: Sometimes typos, broken links, and other small errors might be missed by the QA team, but a fresh set of eyes can find them faster.
  • Improve the user experience: This is, after all, the main goal – we want our apps to be attractive to the users, and with usability testing, we make sure that the application is user-friendly.

Usability vs. User Acceptance

They sound similar, but usability and user acceptance testing are not the same thing. In fact, there are big distinctions between the two. User acceptance testing is done inside the team – i.e. it is performed by testers πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»

There can be cases, in certain Agile teams, where the testing is done by a product owner or a business analyst. UAT is a final check before going live to confirm that the features developed do in fact what they were designed to do, and that they work as they should.

It usually focuses on the happy flows for each feature. It is a type of functional testing. On the other hand, usability can (and should) be done by a representative set of users. They don’t need to be QA professionals. Usability focuses on how the application works and the impact it has on the end-user.

Is it intuitive or do they have to read the documentation just to understand simple functionalities? Is it user-friendly? Does it look good? Can users achieve goals when working with the application in a timely manner?

Examples of Usability Issues

I’ll go over some common usability issues, so we can get a better picture of what to look for. These are also issues we can identify during our regular testing process, so we can address them before a formal session.

Keep in mind though that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, so sometimes we might have to simply accept that this is how our application works:

Excessive Clicks

The best practice is to have to click 3 times or less to reach the page or menu you need. Anything more than this will make the features hard to find, and users might not always have the patience to dig through sub-menus to find what they are looking for.


The application should always be consistent. The labels, buttons, images, etc. should have the same formatting on all pages and screens, and the error messages should display the same way for all forms. This type of issue should be easily spotted πŸ‘€

Unclear Error Messages

If the user receives an error message it should be clear why that happened. Generic messages like “Something went wrong” are not helpful and will not clear things up for them.

Types of Usability Testing

Now let’s discuss some of the most important types of usability tests we can perform on our applications:

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Depending on their focus, usability tests can be quantitative or qualitative. With qualitative usability testing, we capture insights, results, and anecdotes about how people use the application.

Qualitative usability testing is the most effective method for identifying issues with the user experience. This is a more popular type of usability testing than quantitative usability testing.

The objective of quantitative usability tests is to collect data about the user experience. Task success and time on task are two of the most typical metrics gathered. For benchmarking purposes, quantitative usability testing is the right option.

Moderated vs. Unmoderated

A moderated usability test has a moderator accompanying the participants throughout the testing to assist them. The moderator’s job is to keep the session running well by guiding the user through the tasks, asking follow-up questions, and providing assistance.

Moderated usability assessments might take place in person or remotely. When remote, the moderator typically joins through a video call, and the participant shares their screens, allowing the moderator to see and hear precisely what they are doing during the test.

Guerilla Usability Testing

Also known as hallway testing. With this method you place your studies in a busy area. It enables you to ask individuals who have never heard of your product or application to rate their user experience πŸ“Š

When to Conduct Usability Testing

Usability testing should be done before the product is finalized or launched. There are numerous possibilities to perform it earlier in the design and development process, and you should preferably conduct several usability tests at various phases. The most notable stages are:

  • Before making any big design decisions.
  • When the product’s next iteration is due.
  • Following the product’s launch.
  • When you’re not sure about a design.


Being a non-functional type of testing, usability can be a great asset for your product. Gaining the end-users’ perspective and understanding how they use the application can help improve it and make it easy to use, user-friendly, and even better looking πŸ’«


About the author

Andreea Draniceanu

Andreea is a QA engineer, experienced in web and desktop applications, and always looking to improve her automation skills and knowledge. Her current focus is automation testing with C#.

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