We explain three stages of usability testing and why you need to include it in your product design process.
We live in a hyper-innovative world where expectations are high, and patience is low. That math formula is a recipe for disaster if you do not include usability testing of your digital experiences at different points of the design-to-deployment pipeline.
When done properly, customers widely adopt solutions and products faster, but the real value you receive is more feedback about how to make those solutions even better. Detractors become promoters who provide valuable qualitative feedback to help create a true, continuously improved set of applications.
Most organizations attempt some form of customer insights to help inform the overall direction of their design and development. If you are not doing that, start doing that now. Not sure where to start? In this blog, we’ll walk through the three stages of usability testing to help you better incorporate it into your design process.
When Usability Testing Comes into Play – Ideation Stage
Usability testing and studies come into play once you have a stimuli (some demonstrative way of showing and walking the users through the experience like paper prototypes) that can further harden your design direction with the input your customer research provided. One of two things will happen:
- It will prove you are on the right path, pending some modifications that make it better.
- It will tell you what you need to rethink or redesign to make it what the user actually wants.
You will notice I switched words there from customer to user. At this point, given how designers think and absorb information, we need a more concrete audience who will actually use this solution, product or service to gather real-world feedback. This level of input is critical at this stage because, typically, we aren’t getting into the code yet, so the investment level is purely in design and low risk.
You can use stimuli in various formats, from paper prototyping – which is common if you are working in some form of design thinking approach – to prototypes in any number of tools like Figma, Adobe XD or even concepts in flat compositions.
At this point, we recommend you use more one-on-one in-depth interviews to ensure intimacy. You can have an actual dialogue back and forth with the user to hear and listen to what they think about your product. One of the critical aspects of this style of interview is you get to witness how they express themselves. In-depth interviews provide auditory and visual clues you can’t get through other methods like online usability studies or usability software.
After you work through the ideation stage, it’s time to move on to development.
Moving from Stimuli to Solutions – Development Stage
Now that you’ve worked with users and determined your design, the next stage in your solution is moving from design to code. Designers are still testing the designs with users in a one-on-one setting, but as you get closer to release or deployment, you will shift to more online or digital testing modes.
In the earlier stages of development, designers test highly engaging, functional prototypes and may use a design tool like Figma. Or they might use a coded asset that they didn’t necessarily hooked up to real-world data, but that mimics what the real-world experience will deliver.
The main difference between this review stage and the previous is less about what it looks like and what it will do and more about what happens when you push buttons and go through flows within the products and services. Again, you need a captive and user-specific audience to ensure you continue to harden the application.
Once your product teams agree the solution is design ready, we will move to usability testing in a more open-source format with some digital interface to display them as close to a real-world solution as possible.
There is a myriad solutions like UserTesting.com, Usability Hub and User Zoom. All of these essentially do the same things, but what makes them valuable is that you can connect these platforms to your product management tools like Jira, Confluence, Azure DevOps and so forth. Users supply feedback to the tools, which streamlines how a product owner, business analyst (BA), designer and so on can comb through this feedback and put together the insights and optimizations to the solution.
This is where you say: We are ready for deployment from a user standpoint. If nothing is glaringly wrong, and the feedback is either subjective or minimal, then you are ready to go.
Validating In-Market Solutions Through Usability Testing – Post-Launch Stage
One of the least used but most effective and efficient ways to leverage the idea of usability testing is in products, solutions and services already in the market, regardless of when you released them. At this stage, depending on what you want to accomplish, you can use either a more one-on-one style or a usability tool.
If you need feedback about how to revamp or rethink the application, you should use more of a one-on-one interview style or even an observational interview where you watch a user use the tool with a series of tasks to complete. This is because you can more quickly leverage this new data to inform product or solution direction. You are essentially at the first stage again, but since you already have a product, you have stimuli to use already to help induce ideation.
Using continuous usability testing and tools is great for managing and enhancing products that do not require a redesign because they are still effective in the market. Product teams use this to ensure they always include the voice of the customer as part of design and product direction.
Regardless of where you are in the lifecycle of a product or solution, you need to do usability testing to ensure you hit your customers’ expectations and avoid their lack of patience. Anecdotally, this also provides irrefutable evidence for any changes or updates you need to present to leadership.