Usability testing. How to?

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Many designers come to me for usability testing consulting services. One of the reasons they reach out is because they assume usability testing must be a complex, scientific process. As a result, they’d prefer to have an outside company conduct their usability tests.

Then I tell them I rarely run usability tests anymore! Why? Well, in my experience the best way to do usability studies is to do it yourself. So I spend a lot of time helping teams do learn how to do it themselves, not doing it for them. By conducting their own quick and dirty usability studies, design teams can get feedback faster, easier, and more affordably than hiring an outside professional.

Usability Testing Is Not a Complicated Process

The first thing I tell designers is that it’s a mistake to think that usability testing has to be complicated. It’s a technique anyone can learn with a little training and a lot of practice. Usability testing isn’t rocket science, but it does need to be integrated into a design team’s overall process in order to work.

I’ve found that the most successful teams learn to conduct their own informal testing whenever they can without waiting for the usability team’s availability. In the most successful projects, the team has a design idea, they quickly sketch it and create a prototype, and then test it as quickly as possible.

When I work with design teams who have never conducted a study, I teach them the basics of usability testing, have them observe me facilitate one or two sessions, and then they try it on their own with my guidance. After a few of these sessions, these usability “newbies” are usually ready to run their own testing sessions.

Usability Professionals Act as the Coaches

So what’s the role of the usability professional? In most mid-to-large-sized corporations, there are too many design projects for one person—sometimes even an entire usability team—to run all of the usability studies the design teams need.

As a result, the usability professional is most successful as a Coach who educates and advises the organization on which projects to focus on, how to plan and run their studies, and how to analyze the results. They can better serve design teams by sharing best practices for conducting usability tests, interviews, field studies, diary studies, and other research techniques.

How Can Design Teams Start Testing On Their Own?

If you’ve never conducted a test, start right away. Try a test next week; it’s not as complicated as it may seem. At its core, a usability test involves putting a person in front of your product and watching what they do. Your goal is not to implement the scientific method as you elaborately lay out a treatise on the usability of your product – just to observe how well users can accomplish their desired tasks with it.

Time and time again I’ve seen immediate results from such an approach. Learning how to run internal usability tests will not only save a company money, but will instill a “design for usability” mentality into your design team and, hopefully, the organization as a whole.

So instead of hiring an outside professional to do usability testing for you, try to find one who will act as your coach and guide instead. In no time you’ll be up and running with a regular testing plan that will benefit you far longer than the immediate project. Your design team will be more self-sufficient as a result.

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