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An Introduction to Usability testing

A brief introduction and history into Usability testing and it's crucial part in tech design. 

Thursday 30 March 2023

An introduction

Usability testing is a process that involves testing a product with real users to observe and note their interactions while they complete a list of tasks. The main objective is to determine whether the design is intuitive and usable enough for users to achieve their goals. However, the benefits of usability testing go beyond functionality and usability. It also helps to understand the use cases of the product, the target audience, and build a better product. In the context of human-centered design, usability testing is a key principle for developing user-centric products. The modern approach to usability testing started in the ’80s with the development of personal and work computers. Today, usability testing falls under three broad categories: qualitative or quantitative, moderated or unmoderated, and remote or in-person. The choice of method depends on the research goals and the product being tested. Overall, usability testing helps to understand the user's perspective and optimize the product for their needs.

History of Usability Testing

Usability testing has been an important part of product development for several decades. The modern approach to usability testing began in the 1980s, as personal and work computers became more prevalent. At that time, most people had very limited exposure to computers, and getting familiar with new technology was usually a long and frustrating process. To ensure that computers were usable and intuitive, programmers needed to understand users' thought processes for completing a task.


In 1981, two researchers, Karl Ericsson and Herbert Simon, published an article called "Verbal Reports as Data," which popularized the "think aloud" method. In this method, the participant speaks their thought process out loud while completing a task. This approach helped researchers understand how users interacted with the computer and the difficulties they encountered.


More than a decade later, in 1998, the ISO 9241 definition of usability defined usability as "the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specified users achieve specified goals in particular environments." This definition gave a more structured approach to usability testing, which included measuring effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.


These developments meant that instead of guessing how a product is used by people, researchers could observe them complete tasks, learn, and improve usability problems in real-time. Today, usability testing remains a critical component of product development, helping to optimize products for users' needs and preferences.

Usability testing allows designers to uncover the subconscious thoughts of their users. This provides the insights needed to steer complex tech design in the right direction.

Types of Usability testing

here are several types of usability testing methods that you can use depending on your research goals and the characteristics of your product. Broadly speaking, all usability testing methods can be classified into three categories:


Qualitative or Quantitative: Qualitative research uses words and meaning to uncover the ‘why’, while quantitative research uses numbers and statistics to answer ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘when’. Usability testing methods that fall under the qualitative category include think-aloud testing, where participants are asked to verbalize their thought process while completing tasks, and user interviews, where you ask participants questions about their experience with your product. On the other hand, usability testing methods that fall under the quantitative category include surveys, which allow you to collect numerical data on participant satisfaction and task completion time.


Moderated or Unmoderated: Moderated usability testing involves a facilitator who guides participants through tasks and asks questions, while unmoderated usability testing allows participants to complete tasks on their own without the presence of a facilitator. Moderated testing is typically conducted in person, while unmoderated testing can be done online.


Remote or In-person: As the names suggest, remote usability testing is conducted remotely, typically online, while in-person usability testing is conducted face-to-face. In-person testing is useful for physical products, while remote testing is a good option for software or online tools. Remote testing can also be conducted with both moderated and unmoderated methods.