Usability Testing

The Basic Idea

Have you ever tried to purchase a product online, only to get lost in a maze of buttons and checkout forms? If you’re anything like most people, you’ve abandoned your fair share of shopping carts due to these all-too-common inconveniences.

Considering the number of lost sales from this recurrent issue, why would any business knowingly publish a poorly designed e-commerce website?

This happens when businesses hastily launch products, assuming that customers will figure everything out on their own. In reality, end-users rarely find a product as intuitive as its designers and developers do. After all, they are the ones who built the product – while consumers lack this same level of experience. With this in mind, how can we ensure products are inherently user-friendly for their intended audience? The tried and true solution is to conduct usability tests.

Usability testing is a research methodology for evaluating products or services by testing them on real users. By learning about the target users’ behavior and preferences, a usability test aims to identify problems in product design and uncover opportunities for improvement. This usually means observing how easily users can accomplish certain tasks when interacting with an app, website, or software. 

Let’s return to our e-commerce checkout scenario as an example. A usability test might explore how easily people can navigate the checkout process on mobile devices. Perhaps this test reveals that mobile users make many errors when entering their information into form fields, requiring that they go back and fix typos before completing their purchases—a process that can be incredibly tedious when typing on small mobile screens. Simply reducing the number of form fields and implementing autofill features could make the checkout process easier, preventing many mobile users from abandoning their carts.

Without usability testing, designers risk launching products that frustrate users, leading to poor engagement, increased support costs, negative brand perception, and lost revenue overall. User testing helps designers debunk their own assumptions and instead get to the bottom of what users actually need.

Usability really just means making sure that something works well: that a person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can use the thing – whether it's a web site, remote control, or revolving door – for its intended purpose without getting hopelessly frustrated.

Steve Krug, UX professional and author of Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.

Theory, meet practice

TDL is an applied research consultancy. In our work, we leverage the insights of diverse fields—from psychology and economics to machine learning and behavioral data science—to sculpt targeted solutions to nuanced problems.

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Related TDL Content

User Interface

A product or system’s user interface (UI) encompasses the interactive elements that allow users to accomplish tasks or access information. It includes the overall layout of the system as well as buttons, images, text, and other elements that users view or interact with. The goal of usability testing is to make it easier for people to understand and use a product’s UI.

A/B Testing

We touched on A/B testing in this article, but there’s a lot more to learn about this user research method. A/B testing is great for testing designs in the real world and determining which layouts, features, or elements perform best in terms of user engagement and conversions, which reflects a system’s usability.


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About the Author

Kira Warje

Kira holds a degree in Psychology with an extended minor in Anthropology. Fascinated by all things human, she has written extensively on cognition and mental health, often leveraging insights about the human mind to craft actionable marketing content for brands. She loves talking about human quirks and motivations, driven by the belief that behavioural science can help us all lead healthier, happier, and more sustainable lives. Occasionally, Kira dabbles in web development and enjoys learning about the synergy between psychology and UX design.

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