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The Unsung Hero: Usability Testing

The unsung hero of our Product Development Blueprint at Inventor is without a doubt our usability testing. So much focus is placed on the initial concept and prototype, that usability testing flies under the radar. We’re guilty of it too.


Yet deep down we know that it is one of the most critical stages in our process. Because after all, what’s the point in putting the effort to develop a product if you can’t be sure that your users will enjoy it?


So, let’s dig a little deeper into usability testing and explore the different ways in which it can be used.



What Are We Testing For?


Before you can search for anything, you must know what you’re looking for. In our testing, we’re always focusing on a few key elements of the product. Primarily, we’re evaluating the products effectiveness and functionality. Does the product do what it’s intended to?


At the end of the day, every product has a core purpose. You could design the sexiest umbrella of all time, but if it doesn’t keep the rain off you, it’s a pretty useless umbrella.

But we’re also testing for things like accuracy and efficiency. Are there any errors or defects in the prototype that will affect the User Experience? Are there unnecessary design elements that draw away from the products core functionality?



And of course, we’re exploring the User Experience too. The product needs to be user friendly and intuitive otherwise it’ll just be frustrating for users. As a result, limiting usability testing to just the target market isn’t good enough. To be truly sure that the product has a strong User Experience, you need to test the product with users outside of the target market, who don’t have existing knowledge of the sector.


If you limit your testing segment to a specific type of user, you might find yourself in this type of situation.


Comparative Usability Testing


Keep in mind, usability testing isn’t just a one hit wonder. We don’t just come in for a day, bang it out and be done with it. It needs to be done a few times along the way to ensure you’ve got a strong grasp of the product. Even before you’ve developed a prototype (or even the design) it can be extremely helpful to conduct usability testing on existing products in the market.


It helps you understand the strengths and weaknesses of existing products, which will inevitably become your competitors. Doing so, allows you to ensure your product is a point of difference in the market; matching the strengths of competing products and building on their weaknesses.


Explorative Usability Testing


Alternatively, you may need to be more creative with your testing if there isn’t a defined market already. We’ve seen plenty of product concepts that don’t really fit into any existing niche of the market. So, they’re essentially trying to fill in the gaps with a completely unique product.


In this case, you want to build a complete picture of the potential product with pieces of information from similar products and services. You can even develop scenarios for your test group to see how they’d respond in a certain situation. Consider it to be like a jigsaw puzzle; you piece together the big picture with small bits of information that contributes to a broader understanding of the product.


The Process

Let’s take a brief look at how you’d go about conducting an official usability test. Keep in mind, that the objective is to gather information, not necessarily to follow the set testing formula to the tee.


Of course, you want to start by establishing what exactly you’re trying to find out. Start from your objectives and develop a list of questions that you think will help you get that information from test participants. Once you’ve got that, you can start to think about your participants. Consider your target market, but as we mentioned before, also consider people outside your target market. Maybe you could conduct the test with two groups; one consisting of participants within your target market, and the other consisting of a wide range of people outside of your target market.



Keep in mind, recruiting participants can be a lengthy process. Consider adding some incentive such as gift cards to encourage people to sign up.


It’s crucial to create a clear plan for the test, to ensure you’re not wasting anyone’s time. You want to include the goals, key information, Non-Disclosure Agreements (If necessary) and an outline of tasks for your test group. It’s also best to ask for feedback outside of the scope of the questions. Your participants may have some extremely useful information that didn’t fall under the umbrella of any of the questions of tasks.


Best Practices


There’s plenty of reading on usability testing you can do. And some writers and organisations have developed Best Practices for effective usability testing. These practices are definitely useful to be a guide for your testing, but don’t fall into the trap of simply abiding by the recommended process. You may think of a new strategy or task that could get more useful information out of the test.



If that’s outside of the scope of accepted ‘best practices’, do it anyway. What works for you, may not have worked for someone else. Use best practices as a guide, but don’t ever let them narrow the scope of your usability testing


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