What is usability testing and why does it matter in software development? | Forte Group

5 reasons why usability testing matters in the software development process

In a world of ever-changing customer needs, great product design helps a product stand out. However, if the design of a product isn’t supported by an exceptional user experience (UX), then the design isn’t fulfilling its role in product development. Yes, products should be visually appealing, but they should also be easy to use and meet customer needs.

Poor user experience is one of the key factors that can negatively impact small businesses, enterprises, online businesses, and startups. The attention span of the average user today is eight seconds, compared to 15 seconds in 2000 (For comparison, goldfish have a nine-second attention span). This means that a hypothetical user with an attention span of a few seconds can easily get annoyed by poor usability and click away without giving a product a second chance.

In this article, we focus on why usability testing is an essential part of driving value in product design.

Before diving into the practical aspects of usability testing, it’s important to define “usability” with regard to software development.

Simply put, usability is defined as, “the degree to which something is able or fit to be used.” Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., the user advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group who coined the term “usability” and invented several usability methods, offers a more tech-related definition. He suggests that usability is “a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.” The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

In addition to UX, usability is also a multi-layer term, generally defined by five main characteristics:

  1. Effectiveness: How accurately can users complete the required actions?
  2. Efficiency: How quickly can users achieve their goals? 
  3. Engagement: How pleasant is the product to use? Does the design feel appropriate for the specific niche or industry?
  4. Error tolerance: How often do errors occur? How easy is it for users to solve those errors or recover from them?
  5. Ease of learning: How easily can new users learn to use the product? How easily can they remember how to use it?

What does UX consist of?

The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, usability. Aside from usability, there are other elements that help the user figure out the product and form an opinion about a product or service.

There are seven core principles of user experience (UX):

  1. Usefulness: How much value does the product bring to the end-user?
  2. Usability: How smooth and effortless is the user’s interaction with the product?
  3. Findability: How easy it is to discover the product?
  4. Credibility: How trusted and reliable is the product?
  5. Desirability: How does the product meet the current market demand?
  6. Accessibility: How approachable is the product for various users?
  7. Value: How useful is the product to the end-user?

If design teams invest enough effort into making sure all the above-mentioned aspects of UX are covered and tested, chances are the outcome will be a well-thought-out experience. These efforts will add up to creating a digital product that stands out among competitors.

Mature companies report the great impact of design on their success. According to the Future of Design survey, putting effort into improving product design leads to higher sales, better customer retention and engagement, and faster product cycles.

 

The aforementioned five components of usability should serve as a checklist when making conclusions about the need for further design or prototype revisions. Even if only one seemingly insignificant component is missing, the whole product can be jeopardized. This is why it’s important to see usability as a combination of product characteristics rather than a set of separate functions.

Why is usability testing important and what is its purpose?

According to the 2020 UX survey, a striking 23 percent of teams still don’t conduct any type of user testing. Here are a few figures from the same survey that illustrate the costs related to underestimating the importance of usability and usability testing:

  • “Inadequate use of usability engineering methods in software development projects has been estimated to cost the US economy about $30 billion per year in lost productivity.” Jakob Nielsen 
  • Every $1 invested in UX results in a return of between $2-$100.
  • 85 percent of issues related to UX can be detected by performing a usability test on a group of five users.
  • Fixing a problem in development costs 10 times as much as fixing it in design. It costs 100 times as much if you’re trying to fix the problem in a product that’s already been released.

The main goal of usability testing is to ensure the UX is smooth in every aspect of user-product interaction. Usability testing also empowers design teams to discover areas of potential confusion and eliminate them. It is a non-functional type of software testing, meaning that it’s used to determine the extent to which users understand the software product, and to establish whether it’s appealing and easy to operate. 

In order to obtain insightful results from usability testing, the testing team should treat the product as someone outside the product development team would. In other words, usability testing is the process of testing your product with real people by getting them to complete a list of tasks while you observe and note their interactions.

A few more technical-related goals of usability testing are:

  • Validating the prototypes and hypothesis of the product team
  • Discovering minor errors and inconsistencies within the product
  • Confirming or rejecting users’ expectations of the product

User testing vs usability testing

User testing and usability testing are not the same types of testing; however, they are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

User testing vs. usability testing

User testing supports UI/UX, but also helps product marketing. During user testing, the type of product, application, or service that is in high demand on the market and the features it should possess in order to succeed are generally already defined.

Usability testing helps with defining what can be improved and fixed. User research reduces the likelihood of building something that doesn’t meet the user’s needs, but only once everyone knows what those needs are. 

Knowing the difference between user testing and usability testing will help you pose the right questions to your team, and therefore find more effective ways to add value to your product and take up your niche on the market. Without proper user testing and usability testing, you risk pouring the limited resources of your team’s hours into developing and improving features no one needs. Or, even worse, you risk neglecting errors that will prevent users from coming back. 

Benefits of usability testing

Whether you’re a B2C retailer or a B2B consulting company, it’s likely that a substantial percentage of your customers use their laptop screens during their customer journey. To ensure a smooth omnichannel experience, you should research your target audience’s preferred platforms and prioritize them while planning website usability testing activities. Here’s why these efforts are worth it:

1. Error correction

Errors make your application unusable, and sometimes it only takes a single glitch to change a user’s opinion of your product. Testing before release (ideally, on every stage, starting from prototyping) will reduce the number of errors, resulting in a more user-friendly product.

2. Time savings

Timely feedback from usability testing will not only prevent errors and misconceptions from snowballing, but will also arm you with the ability to meet deadlines and plan accordingly. Errors discovered in the early stages of testing will allow you to move in the right direction without wasting time on fixing failed versions.

3. Cost savings

The lower the amount of time spent on bug fixing and support, the lower your support and redesign costs will be. A tight feedback loop with usability testing at each stage will prove useful and keep your budget estimations accurate.

4. Knowing your users

As absurd as it sounds, users are notoriously bad at expressing their likes and dislikes. Even if you ask them upfront, the answers might not reflect their true intentions. By observing and measuring the behavior of your users with usability testing, you gain insights into what your users’ motivations are when they decide to give your product a try.   

5. Meeting your business goals 

Usability testing allows you to view your product from a fresh, unbiased perspective that may contrast with the development scope you’ve already outlined. You can use this perspective to gain a competitive advantage by adjusting your strategy to focus on features that are valuable to your users.

Usability testing tools

Intentional and strategic user experience has the potential to raise conversion rates by as much as 400 percent. In response to the ever-growing demand for qualitative and quantitative means of usability testing, a wide selection of usability testing tools and frameworks have emerged. Utilizing a usability testing tool to validate your product or gain insight into how to improve the users’ digital experience would be a great addition to your testing strategy. Choosing the right testing tool heavily depends on the type of product. Here are some usability testing tools to consider using:

  • Hypothesis testing (Optimizely)
  • Heatmaps (Usabilia, Qualaroo)
  • Movement trackers (UserFeel, TryMyUI)
  • Various types of feedback forms and surveys (Usabilia)
  • Prototype, wireframe, and mockup testing (FiveSecondTest, Validately)
  • Tools for click-based testing (CrazyEgg)

Read also: A QA Expert’s Guide to 11 Popular Software Testing Tools 

Types of usability testing

 

The best testing methods vary depending on the type of product under test (consumer-facing application, enterprise-level software, entertainment website, etc.). Some of the most common testing methods include:

Exploratory testing

This testing method is generally performed at the early stages of development and consists of exploring peer and competitor websites, applications, and products to analyze which elements are most common and how they are placed. This method may give a broader understanding of the best practices in a specific field or for a certain type of product or website. 

Comparative (A/B) testing

There are two approaches to comparative testing. The first aims at comparing two or more ready-made design outlays to decide which best suits the objectives. The second is to compare the existing or planned design to competitors’ designs to figure out which elements can be added or discarded.

Hallway (guerilla) testing

The essence of such testing is to interview random people in public places with high foot traffic. It is assumed that these will be people with different backgrounds and different levels of technical skill, which can potentially reveal the flaws of the product in a variety of non-repetitive areas.

This method does not require any specific technology or skill. It is mostly used during the prototyping stage to define the direction early on. However, it can be time-consuming and sometimes not quite representative of your user depending on the product under test.

Remote testing 

The main characteristic and benefit of this type of usability testing is outsourcing your testing efforts anywhere in the world. The main condition for such testing to be effective and insightful is that users should not have any prior experience with your product.

There are two ways you can conduct remote testing: a moderated and an unmoderated approach. The difference is the presence of a moderator to guide the user through the product and note the difficulties encountered. Without a moderator, a user explores a product on their own and documents their user journey experience in detail. As a result, the engineering team has invaluable first-hand data on how their target audience responds to their product.

Bottom line

In the incredibly competitive landscape of digital products, usability testing offers a chance for better business and design processes. Instead of trying to fix mistakes when they’re out in the open, already staining user interactions and possibly ruining your reputation, consider cementing the quality of your software by including usability testing early in your product development stages.

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Alexandra Gorobets

by Alexandra Gorobets

Alexandra is a content manager at Forte Group, who is enthusiastic about all things tech. Her technical interests embrace quality assurance, software development, and DevOps.

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