Test Early, Test Often: 3 Great Usability Testing Methods

Usability testing is a crucial part of launching a successful product. Here are three methods to make sure your testing regimen is effective.

Written by Nick Babich
Published on Nov. 17, 2021
Test Early, Test Often: 3 Great Usability Testing Methods
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The ultimate goal of product design is to create something that will be both valuable and pleasurable to the user. Usability testing plays a tremendous role in product success since it infuses the design process with the end user’s perspective. Operating this way, a product team has a better chance to create products that offer users a great experience. 

Before conducting usability testing, however, you need to take some steps to prepare for the process. Once that’s complete, there are three key usability testing techniques you can employ to create solid, successful products. 

3 Great Usability Testing Methods

  1. Guerilla testing.
  2. Remote moderated testing.
  3. Dogfooding.

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Before Testing

Usability testing requires a lot of preparation. So, before investing time and money in it, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience? Do you have specific criteria for your user persona like demographics, psychological attributes and so on? You need to define your ideal user.

  • What are your crucial research objectives? What do you want to learn? And why? You need to define the goals of your testing process so you know what you’re doing.

  • How much money can you spend on testing? You need to specify a budget.

  • What is your timeline? When do you need to provide testing results? You need to set a due date.

The answers to these questions will help you find a suitable testing technique. So, after you determine your answers, you can employ one of the methods below.


1. Guerilla Testing

Guerilla testing, also known as hallway testing, is a straightforward technique. All you need to do is go to a public place like a cafe and find a person willing to interact with your product in exchange for a free coffee or Amazon gift card. This type of testing generally takes five to 10 minutes, and the tasks that test participants have to complete shouldn’t require any special preparation. 

Guerilla testing typically works well during the early stages of product development when you have a low-fidelity prototype and are still exploring various product design directions. It will help you understand whether you’re moving in the right direction or not and adjust your course of action if necessary. 

Guerilla testing offers several benefits. Firstly, it’s an expensive way of testing because you don’t have to pay the participants much for their time. Further, you don’t have to prepare a special environment for testing. In terms of results, this type of test collects genuine emotional responses from the participants. You get a chance to see how your design makes people feel in real time, and you can determine if your concept excites them.

You should also be aware of the downsides of guerilla testing, though. Because the test participants are randomly selected, they might not actually be part of your target audience. As such, guerilla testing is particularly poorly suited to niche products that require special skills on the part of the user.

Further, the short time in which the sessions occur imposes limitations. You only have five or 10 minutes, so it’s impossible to ask participants to do many things. You also usually can’t repeat the tests with the same participant unless you collect contact information, which is rare in this approach. So, you won’t be able to conduct a second round with the same participants to see whether any changes you’ve made improve their experiences. 

With these pros and cons in mind, you should follow a few simple guidelines when conducting a guerilla test. Determine the questions and tasks that you most want test participants to complete. Try to focus on only essential things that are directly related to your research goal and skip all secondary tasks. Also, be sure to take notes during testing. Don’t try to memorize everything that test participants say or do. Human memory is fallible, and you likely won’t commit every necessary detail to memory.  


2. Remote Moderated Testing 

As the name suggests, this type of testing is conducted remotely and supervised by a moderator. Test participants are asked to complete tasks in their own environment using their own devices. A moderator gives tasks to test participants, observes their interactions with the product, and asks follow-up questions. 

Remote moderated testing works well when collecting specific feedback on user behavior like identifying areas where they face friction in your product. You should conduct this type of testing at the later stages of the process with a high-fidelity design because test participants will provide more specific feedback.  

One of the major benefits of remote moderated usability testing is collecting in-depth information on how users interact with your product. The testing session is much longer, lasting an hour or even a few hours, so you can collect very detailed feedback on user interactions. This length helps you better understand where your users face issues and why they face them since the moderator can ask a follow-up question if they need to clarify anything. 

Remotely moderated testing also gives you an opportunity to reveal key usability issues. According to Jakob Nielsen, even testing with only five test participants can help you reveal 85 percent of usability issues. Perhaps best of all, this type can have multiple rounds with the same test participants. This way, you can see whether changes in product design positively impact usability.  

Of course, it’s not without its drawbacks too. Remote moderated testing testing is generally more expensive because it requires hiring test participants and paying them an honorarium. Generally, you should expect to pay between $12 and $15,000 for testing with 20 participants with some qualifications These may include fitting into your target audience or having prior experience working with particular products or equipment.

In addition to the higher monetary costs, this type of testing is also more labor intensive. Your team must prepare specific instructions that your test participants need to do, including tasks to complete and questions to answer. You also need to verify that these instructions are clear to participants by making a trial run of usability testing with one or two folks first. If you skip this step, you might find that test participants don’t understand your instructions, which will mitigate the results of testing. 

Remote moderated testing also requires a skilled moderator, ideally an experienced professional who understands the purpose of testing and can keep the participants on track if they are confused. Finding such an expert will take some time and further expense. 

When conducting remote moderated testing, there is always a risk that the test participants’ responses and reactions to your product will be different from the real users. No matter how good your testing protocol is, a moderated test increases the chances that participants won’t react naturally to the product. As a result, they may demonstrate non-realistic behavior by doing something in the test that they would never do in real life. That’s why you need to validate your findings using other types of testing like in-depth user interviews and analytics reports.  

Finally, during the test, record interactions on video. Having a video recording will help you better understand the problems users face, but it can also serve as a good reference tool for your team. 


3. Dogfooding

Dogfooding, or eating your own dog food, is the practice of using your own products or services. Unlike any other techniques mentioned in this article, test participants for dogfooding are all the same people responsible for creating the product. 

In this method, once a product becomes stable, team members start to use it regularly, find bugs and issues, then report and resolve them. 

The best aspect of dogfooding is that it doesn’t require any special preparation. Ideally, the interaction with a product can be a part of a daily routine for project team members. It also gives them an extra level of confidence in the product they’re building. Dogfooding acts as quality control, and product creators know firsthand that the product they release is functional, reliable and usable.  

As with all these approaches, however, there are risks involved. For one thing, test results can be biased. As Jakob Nielsen once said, “You are not your user.” A team member has a better understanding of a product and generally has better computer skills than a regular user. As a result, the issues they face and report might not be the same as those that the target audience will deal with. 

Also, product creators may be blind to usability problems. Since team members interact with a product daily, they might get used to some product issues and ignore them. This blind spot can lead to major problems when the product eventually debuts. 

When dogfooding, make sure to use the same bug tracking tool for bugs and usability issues that you used for other usability testing methods. By doing so, you will avoid issue duplicates in which the same issue is reported twice from different testing methods. 

Finally, dogfooding works the best when used with another type of test, such as moderated usability testing. For example, a team can use dogfooding to find issues and then conduct a series of usability testing sessions to understand how severe they are for the end-users. 

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Improve Your Testing Regime

So, how do you find the proper test for your project? The method you select should be aligned with your testing objectives: the goal of the testing, your budget and your timeline. Ideally, you should mix a few different methods because they will combine to allow you to better understand user behavior.

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