What is Usability Design and How to Conduct a UX Usability Test

Usability design is a critical component of user experience, and it guides the actual design.

As you enter the UX world, you will encounter the term “usability” more and more. But, what is usability design, and how do you conduct a UX usability test to measure a product/service’s usability?

It’s clear to see why usability is vital for determining the success of a product. Take a look at Jakob Nielsen’s words about usability design:

Usability rules the Web. Simply stated, if the customer can’t find a product, then he or she will not buy it.”

– Jakob Nielsen

Also regarded as “user-centered design,” usability design includes two essential parts, namely. One is conducting usability testing based on psychological research on the target users such as user needs, user model, use of the process, etc.

The other one is combining Industry Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Ergonomics, and other disciplines of basic principles used in the design behavior.

Let’s go back to square one and take a look at the usability design meaning.

What is UX Usability Design

Usability is a measure that assesses how easily a specific user can use a product/design effectively and satisfactorily to accomplish a given task in a specific scenario. Usability is not only about interface design but also is involved in the technical functioning of an entire system. Designers often measure a design’s usability throughout the development process to deliver maximum usability and optimal user experience. Human factors reflect the efficiency of a usability design, and a variety of tasks evaluates it.

If we look at the usability definition from a psychological perspective, what is meant by usability?

  1. The design doesn’t distract users from the operation at hand. The operation should be repeatable and simple.
  2. Users can learn to make the operations in a short time.
  3. Users don’t need a comprehensive knowledge of hardware and software to use the product.
  4. Misunderstanding and errors will be minimum.
  5. Users can easily focus on tasks and operate their own processes effectively and easily.

In the simplest terms, for example, if you have a mobile app that you enjoy using. Chances are, its designers did an excellent job at researching and testing it. The same goes for a smartphone.

There is one thing that is sure as shooting: Usability is rarely accidental.

You might create a visually perfect and excellent product in theory, but it can still be inefficient and ultimately frustrating to use. Usability rather relies on solid research and testing to eliminate the usability problems.

You might like: Top UX Designers to Follow in 2021.

usability tests

How to Design for Optimum Usability

The most important thing to consider when designing for optimum usability is to focus on contexts first and how well your design will fit into the context. You need to understand users’ problems and address them.

The keywords here are research and testing.

Without researching and finding the true problems, your design efforts turn out to be inefficient. Similarly, if you have done a thorough user research and added what seemed to be excellent design solutions, but you never conduct usability testing, you will have no idea how to improve on those solutions once a problem arises. You need to see if your design solutions actually work through solid usability testing.

You can use the questions below to guide your efforts:

  • Who are the actual target users, and what leads them to that product?
  • Who are the potential users of this product, and what keeps them from using it?
  • What is the reason behind using this product? What do users want to accomplish with it?
  • What contextual or relevant factors are there for the users? (Environmental, temporary, situational, permanent considerations that can affect users.)
  • What prevents users when they try to accomplish a given task with the product?
  • How can you eliminate those obstacles and deliver optimum, enjoyable, and efficient user experiences?

How to Conduct a UX Usability Test

You can apply the points below if you want to test an e-commerce website, a prototype, a product, or a non-transactional website.

Step 1: Start by Planning the Session

First, determine and define the area or problems you want to focus on. What is the purpose of this usability test? Secondly, decide on the type of users you want to test. It might be best to narrow down your user personas to a certain segment (i.e., users who have purchased your product in the past 30 days.)

Carefully sketch out the usability testing questions you want to ask users. It’s important to collect logistical information in place and use it as your guide. What are these logistical details?

  • Location: Where will you conduct the test?
  • Moderators: Who will run the testing sessions?
  • Recording setup: Get familiar with the recording equipment and installation beforehand.
  • Timetable: When will you run the testing sessions?

Step 2: Gather Participants

Popular ways to find participants for your test:

  • Your website: If you already have an established user base to recruit people who want to participate.
  • Social Media: You may use your social media channels to find out potential participants.
  • Agency: You can hire a specialized recruitment agency to recruit candidates that fit your specifications.
  • Clients: Another way is to reach out directly to your clients and ask if they are willing to participate.

Step 3: Plan Specific Scenarios

At this step, design the test itself. Plan the specific scenarios you will test your participants through. It includes the tasks you will ask the participants to complete that will give actionable and guarantee results. Make sure the scenarios are clear, detailed, and very specific.

Step 4: Conduct the Usability Testing Session

Once everything is ready, it’s time to conduct the usability testing. You or your moderators should follow a set protocol with each participant.

Here are the exemplary steps you can follow when conducting the testing sessions:

  • Introduction and warm up to make the participants feel comfortable.
  • Gather pre-testing data such as psychographic or demographic information using predetermined questions.
  • Transition into the first testing task
  • Take notes (ideally, a second person should take notes while you focus on conducting the test.)
  • Ask follow-up questions at the end of the session and collect the participant’s feedback. 
  • Thank them for their participation.

Step 5: Analyze the Insights

The final step is to analyze all the data you have collected and make conclusions. You should try to do this step as soon as the test is done while your observations are still fresh.

Find the most frequent issues that users face for further examination. One way to categorize situations is to group them with a color-code system, but you can group them howsoever is more practical for you.

Instead of trying to address every single problem, prioritize the most problematic issues that need to be resolved.

  • Review your primary goals of testing and define what you’re looking for to keep yourself focused.
  • Organize the testing data.
  • Evaluate the data with qualitative and quantitative measures.
  • Categorize and prioritize problems.
  • Make a report of your testing results.

What about after you made the necessary changes based on your usability testing results?

After you have implemented the recommended changes, you should continue testing their effectiveness. You can do this through either another round of usability testing or A/B testing. Compare the statistics and feedback to assess the success rate and find out if the changes resolved the problems.

Usability is the Key to Smooth User Experiences

We have defined the usability design in the simplest terms at the beginning. However, most people often confuse usability with user experience and ease of use. In fact, usability is a component of user experience (UX) design. 

According to Nielsen Norman Group, usability makes up the second level in user experience. Also, usability comes before desirability and brand experience and after utility. If you are sure that your product can solve users’ problems, you can start improving its usability.

We’ll discuss how user experience (UX) and differ in the following parts of this article.

So, why is the usability design so important?

Usability is critical if you think from the users’ perspective because it enables users to complete tasks, operate without feeling frustrated. When we consider the developer’s aspect, on the other hand, usability is a significant factor to determine the success of a system.

From the manager’s point of view, poor usability reduces productivity. Lower productivity leads to unsatisfied customers, and in short, people won’t buy your products. If the product lacks usability, other elements such as the visual design and marketing efforts are likely to be a waste of time and money.

Let’s see what makes a product usable.

What Makes a Product Usable?

A product’s usability is based on five core qualities you can test your product for. Test these qualities, and you will see a huge difference in your product’s overall success and quality. You may ask the questions below to assess each quality.

  • Efficiency: Can users perform and complete tasks relatively quickly?
  • Learnability: Can first-time users easily and quickly understand the basic navigation and functions?
  • Memorability: When users stop using your product for a while, how quickly can they reacquaint themselves with the based functions and navigation?
  • Error Tolerance: What errors do users make, and how severe are they? How quickly and easily can users understand and recover from those errors?
  • Satisfaction: How much do users enjoy the interface? How satisfied are they when completing tasks in it?

When they first encounter a given interface, users should be able to easily navigate through to achieve their objectives without requiring any outside or expert knowledge. A good design with high usability guides users through the easiest and effortless route to let them complete tasks.

So, in order to ensure high usability design, you must understand users’ contexts. To that, you must consider and adapt to their limitations, such as their environment, cognitive load, and likely distractions.

Besides, it’s essential to consider that usability involves:

  • Familiarity
  • Navigation
  • Feedback
  • Visual clarity
  • Consistency
  • Error prevention
  • Efficiency and flexibility

UX versus Usability Design – What’s the difference?

I almost hear you asking, “wait, did you say usability is not the same as UX?” Yes, user experience and usability are not the same.

Usability is an essential part of a good UX, but the two are different concepts. They show the different aspects of the design process.

So, how do user experience (UX) and usability differ?

Usability is how easily users can use a product—how easily, quickly, and satisfactorily users can accomplish a given task. UX is more of a general term that refers to the overall experience users have with the product through a customer lifecycle.

usability design vs ux design

What’s the Difference Between Usability and Accessibility?

Now that we explained the difference between usability and UX, it’s time to understand the difference between usability and another critical part of user experience: accessibility.

Although usability and accessibility are related, you need to consider them separately. A good user experience includes accessibility, just like usability. When assessing accessibility, you need to consider users who may not have the same cognitive or physical capabilities as your “average” user.

Accessibility refers to making a product equally available and usable to people regardless of the device they use to access the product or their abilities. In other terms, accessibility covers technical and physical considerations.

If you want to ensure your digital products’ accessibility, you can take a look at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from W3C.

Microsoft Design’s inclusive design process also provides a broader and excellent resource if you want to learn how to design in consideration of human diversity without excluding users based on their gender identity, ability, experience, or background.

Conclusion

Usability is key to deliver optimum user experiences or, in general words, a good product. You may have dazzling designs and UX, but as long as your product has poor usability, users will encounter problems and stop using it. In the end, this will make them use other products instead.

That’s why it’s highly crucial not to neglect a product’s usability design. Research and test until you achieve a product that users can actually use.

Alican Bektas

Alican is the Product Manager of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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