Best Usability Testing Methods

With the growing interest in usability, I’m beginning to get a lot of questions about various aspects of the concept, especially from UX enthusiasts who previously regarded usability aspects to be unclassified aspects of UX. This holds to be partially true, while at the same time largely misconstrued by many. One of the biggest questions I get is, “what are the best usability testing methods out there?” The usability field has some pretty documented best practices for testing. 

Today, I’d like to point out the shared and the unique usability testing approaches and why they work.

I will go over three of these methods. There are a lot more of them out there; however, these three are the biggest ones to use, and most worthy of note at this point. As time goes by, and new aspects of usability or new forms of technology arise, these are sure to change. For now, though, these are the best methods to use.

#1 – Focus Groups
UX, marketing and usability all depend on focus groups and for good reason. Early in the development of the software, around alpha phase, you can bring in various test groups that match different demographics, cultures, age groups and the like, and identify from these the groups that you have the highest positive usability. From here, you can either focus on these demographics and save yourself hassle, or if you’re an ambitious developer, you can use the input from the groups that did not match, to identify why it didn’t match, and adjust them accordingly. Focus groups work, but they’re too often regarded as the final word in testing, and I think that’s unwise. So, what can we do next?

#2 – Limited Beta Testing
Google is a champion of the limited beta concept and is even using it to test their infamous Google Glass design, so, this goes beyond software, to encompass a lot of products and services. Once you have a design candidate you are fairly confident about and are satisfied with focus group results, you can give a group of users free access to this beta, but have them sign an NDA. During this time, they can use the software at their leisure, and test it for bugs, difficulties or questionable design choices. They can also show how complex it becomes to achieve large goals with the design as it is, which we talked about previously in our introduction to usability not long ago.

#3 – Incentivize Reporting
Once a product is launched, it’s still good to get ongoing input on how positive usability is for your system. Offering incentives to report bugs or make suggestions of useful nature can be a powerful way to make this happen. These are just the most prevalent usability testing methods, but they’re also the ones that bring the most results, in my experience. Most would agree with me, and I think you’ll find that barring odd situations, these will cover your bases just as well as they have mine and many others for a long time.

Rachel Quinn