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Suchismita Ghosh
Design Writer
07 November, 2022 10 MIN READ

Usability Testing in UX Design

07 November, 2022 10 MIN READ
Suchismita Ghosh
Design Writer

Creating solid user experiences needs a great understanding of the users, their pressure points, what are their expectations from interacting with the product. And while products are designed keeping all this in mind, it is essential to have them tested with real users to ensure that they live up to their purpose. Usability testing helps with just that. It, not just assists in pointing out probable flaws in the design but also enables picking out how and why those might stand as problems.

In this blog, we will be discussing all usability testing, including its purpose, the different types of usability testing, when and where to use them, and the complete process of conducting them.

What is Usability Testing?

Most industries are dedicated to creating exceptional and familiar products, services, and apps for people to use. And in this regard, usability testing stands paramount. The primary goal of usability testing lies in informing the design process but from the user's viewpoint. Usability testing aids in seeing how easy to use a product or design is. This is done by testing it with users in real time.

Over time, UX researchers have developed several techniques over the years for both testing and validating a product’s hypotheses as well as specific design decisions. The methods for this would range from well-known lab-based usability methods to those that were comparatively recent in their development.

In most cases, real-time users are asked to perform and complete tasks. During task performance, they are observed by a researcher to pick out where they may be encountering possible problems or experience probable confusion. If multiple people are seen to be encountering similar problems, recommendations are made to help overcome those usability issues. It is what helps differentiate a good product from a great one.

Purpose of Usability Testing

Usability testing is essential to UX design because it acts as a method for uncovering possible usability issues, while also indicating what might or might not work. It requires paying close attention as intuitive and self-explanatory steps might not easily get noticed by participants during a usability test.

Usability tests do not just aid in identifying a product’s primary pain points. It also checks whether the navigation is user-friendly. It helps observe how quickly and easily people are able to accomplish tasks, while also validating the value proposition of the app/website.

Usability testing also enables testing of competitor solutions and seeing whether potential customers can understand the solutions that have been designed.

Types of Usability Testing

While there are two main types of usability testing methods; moderated and unmoderated testing methods, these can be further divided into several other sub-types. While picking a specific testing method, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the target users, availability of resources (in the form of time and money) as well as research objectives. This will not just help select a relevant testing method but will also aid in adjusting the questions and tasks for test users.

Moderated testing methods

Diagram depicting the process of moderated testing methods
Moderated testing method process

Moderated testing methods occur in the form of real-time interviews with a user, who sits to test the product or service on offer. This can also be a concept, prototype, or simply a design of that product or service. This is usually done remotely or in person.

When done remotely, the interaction with the user occurs in real-time and in the same ‘virtual’ space. Users connect using remote conferencing tools and interact with the moderator and service/product. Some of the most common and often used moderated testing methods are -

Guerilla Testing

It is the most simple form of usability testing. It requires going to public places to ask people about the prototype. Test participants are chosen at random and are then asked to perform a quick usability test. This is usually done in exchange for a small gift, such as a free cup of coffee. It is low-cost and is a simple testing method that enables real-time user feedback.

When to be used

Guerilla testing usually works best during the early stages of a product development process. It helps when there’s a tangible design with wireframes or lo-fi prototypes and the designer wishes to know whether they’re moving in the right direction.

Guerilla testing is also a good method for the collection of personal opinions as well as emotional impressions regarding different ideas and concepts. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that the test participants may not essentially be the product’s target users, which is why it might be ideal for testing niche products requiring special skills.

Lab Usability Testing

Lab usability testing is usually done in special environments (laboratories) under the supervision of a moderator. The moderator is a professional that looks to gather feedback from live users. During a moderated test, the moderator facilitates the test participants via tasks, and from the answers to their questions and replying to their feedback.

When to be used

Lab usability tests work best when there is a need for in-depth information regarding how real users interact with a product and what are the possible issues they face. It aids in investigating the reasons behind specific user behaviors. As this method of testing is moderated vs. unmoderated, it enables the collection of more qualitative information. However, lab testing is expensive to organize and run, primarily because it requires a secure environment, hiring of test participants as well as a moderator. Another issue is with the number of test participants for a single round. Usually, there are 5 - 10 participants for every research round, in a controlled environment. Thus, it is necessary to ensure all the test participants are reflective of the actual customer base.

Pros and Cons of Moderated Testing

Everything comes with its own set of pros and cons and moderated testing methods are no different either.


  • Provides richer user data
  • There is the inclusion of non-verbal data as well
  • Help build rapport with test users
  • Enables prompting users for deeper discussions regarding the problems in real-time



  • Can be quite costly and is also time-consuming
  • Demands the physical or virtual presence of a researcher
  • Isn’t possible to automate

Unmoderated testing methods

Diagram depicting the process of moderated testing methods
Unmoderated testing method process

Unmoderated testing methods are when users are asked to complete predetermined tasks on their own, without any external guidance from a moderator. The users decide on when and where they’d like to complete a test and then provide feedback while recording their session.

While completing tasks, the user thinks out loud and the researcher is able to review the recorded sessions at a later time. Unlike a moderated test, the research doesn’t communicate with the user in real-time.

However, they might include follow-up questions to be a part of the test or after the viewing session, to be followed up with the user. Unmoderated testing methods also require more effort in comparison to moderated testing methods since it isn't possible to get modifications done in real-time with the user.

Remote Usability Testing

Unmoderated remote usability testing as the name suggests occurs remotely with the presence of a moderator. It provides quick, robust, and affordable user testing results that can be used for further study and analysis. The test participants are asked to complete tasks in their preferred environment with their own devices. This leads to the service/product being used naturally. Also, the cost of this testing method is comparatively lower, but it also offers less detailed results.

When to be used

This testing method works best when there is a need to obtain a huge sample to prove critical findings from initial moderated research. That is, when there is a particular hypothesis that requires validating on a large segment of users, unmoderated remote usability testing will enable the testing of a particular question and observe user behavior patterns.

Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry is less of a usability testing method and more of an interview/observation method that helps product teams that obtain information regarding the user experience from real users. The test users are initially asked a set of questions regarding their experiences using a product and then observations are drawn and questions asked as they work in their preferred environment.

When to be used

This technique is ideal for getting rich information on users, such as their workspace, personal preferences, as well as habits. Getting access to all this information at the beginning of the design collaboration process helps the product team to design well-tailored, user-centric experiences. It also works well for shipped products, as it becomes easier to prioritize usability issues when seeing them from a first-hand experience.

Contextual inquiry is a good method to opt for when looking to test user satisfaction with a product.

Phone Interview

Phone interviews are remote usability tests wherein a moderator provides instructions to participants verbally and asks them to complete tasks on their devices. Then feedback is collected automatically, through the user’s interaction which is recorded remotely.

When to be used

Phone interviews serve as an ideal way to collect feedback from test users, especially if they are scattered in different parts of the city/country or world.

Card Sorting

Card sorting is an excellent method often preferred for prioritizing content and specific features in a user interface. The technique is comparatively simple, as one simply needs to place the concepts, i.e. - content and features on the cards and then allow the test users to manipulate the cards into separate categories and groups, as per their preference. Once the test users are done sorting the cards, the moderator asks them to explain the logic behind the categorization, as it enables them to understand their reason better.

When to be used

Card sorting can be considered a good option when looking to optimize a product’s information architecture, prior to building lo-fi mockups with the help of a wireframe tool. Getting feedback on the navigation structure enables designers to make better and more data-backed decisions.

Session Recording

Session recording is the process of recording actions that are taken by real (but anonymized) users when interacting with a site. Data collected from these sessions help in better understanding of what content/features are considered the most interesting for users (using heatmap analysis) and also to see what interaction problems are faced by users when interacting with the product.

When to be used

Session recording aids in understanding major problems that users tend to face when interacting with a product. It usually works best when combined with another type of usability test. While analyzing session recording results helps form a hypothesis on the problems being faced by users, there is also a need to conduct another round of testing to comprehend why users are facing that particular problem.

Pros and Cons of Unmoderated Testing

Similar to the pros and cons of moderated testing, there are quite a few pros and cons to unmoderated testing as well.


  • They are easier to implement
  • They’re comparatively less expensive than traditional moderated testing methods
  • Much more easy to schedule for users
  • Provides better control of task flow as well as monitoring of strict user interactions
  • Gives the ability to run multiple tests almost simultaneously, irrespective of where one is
  • Can be completely automated



  • The quality of observations might vary widely between different users
  • It doesn’t show the whole picture of what a user is experiencing
  • Does not allow for e a deeper discussion or a 1:1 debrief
  • Might require a deeper abstraction as well as an understanding of the results
  • Tends to have a higher disposition for error in data collection

In Conclusion

Usability testing can be utilized in multiple ways throughout a project’s lifecycle. With umpteen different methods available, it might get a little difficult to select the specific method that would be best suited for a product. However, it is still the best possible solution for ensuring a website is able to support users to achieve their goals both quickly and easily.

When businesses are able to meet the needs and expectations of their target users, they’re likely to develop a useful and successful service. It is important to opt for a method that will not just be good for the project but would also be flexible enough to change the direction of the product/service if the need arises. It is necessary to ensure that the testing method being opted for, aligns with both resources as well as service objectives.

Suchismita Ghosh