Running a usability test can be an intimidating prospect, particularly if you are a relative newcomer to the world of design and have never held such a responsibility before.

Thankfully with these few straightforward pieces of advice up your sleeve, you can approach your debut testing attempt with confidence.

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Select the right strategy

There are a few ways to go about usability testing, and working out which is the best one for you is an important oft-overlooked part of the process.

Whether you choose to monitor participants in person, keep in touch with them remotely in real time or leave them to complete the test without direct supervision will depend on the project in question.

Recruit the best participants

There are several important steps to recruit high quality participants for qualitative research, including determining which prospective candidates will be best suited to the tasks that you intend to set them.

By interviewing would-be testers you can not only find people who will deliver the most value, but also identify individuals who represent ‘real’ users. This will help you to establish whether your design is properly positioned to appeal to what your target audience actually wants, rather than just being an approximation of what you think they want.

Set testing parameters

Without a clear idea of what you are actually testing, the whole affair can become meandering and unmanageable. To avoid this, work out what elements you want to focus on and give them priority.

For example, if you are testing website usability you might put navigation at the top of the testing agenda, since this will hold significant sway over user satisfaction.

Seek input early

It may seem tempting to expend all of your efforts getting your project as close to complete as possible before you carry out usability testing, but this is a rookie error. Instead you should test early and repeat this throughout so that you can address any glaring flaws as soon as possible, rather than allowing them to go unnoticed until it is too late.

Testing with early iterations of your design might seem a little scary, but you need to overcome the fear of showing users something that is unfinished if you want to sidestep disaster further down the line.

Provide specific talking points

Generalized questions are the bane of usability tests, since without a suitably targeted inquiry you will struggle to glean anything useful from a participant’s response.

Instead, aim to ask for feedback on specific elements that are being tested. Getting a broad idea of a user’s emotional response is worthwhile, but it should be just one part of what you test for.

Test again after changes have been made

If you implement changes based on feedback from the first round of usability testing, be sure to check that these alterations have had the desired effect with subsequent testing.

Even if your changes seem relatively minor, being receptive to the input of genuine users can lead to far better results in the long run.

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.