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Automating Usability Testing: Approaches and Tools

Imagine a company designs a new mobile banking app. They test it with a group of people. During the testing, some users have trouble locating the bill pay function on the app. This tells the designers that the navigation might not be clear and they can improve it by making the bill pay button more prominent.

This is an example of usability testing.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is all about observing how real people interact with a product, usually a website, app, or software, to see how easy and enjoyable it is to use. The goal is to identify any confusing elements or areas where users get stuck so the product can be improved.

Types of usability testing

Here are the types of usability testing that are used:

  • Moderated testing: A researcher is present during the testing session, guiding participants through tasks and asking questions to get a deeper understanding of their thought processes and frustrations. This allows for more in-depth feedback and clarification.
  • Unmoderated testing: Participants complete tasks independently, often remotely, using their own devices. While there’s no moderator to ask questions, unmoderated testing can be faster and more cost-effective, allowing users to interact with the product in a more natural environment.
  • In-person testing: Participants come to a designated testing lab or facility to interact with the product. This allows for more control over the environment and can be useful for complex products that require a lot of explanation.
  • Remote testing: Participants use the product from their own location, typically on their own computers or mobile devices. This is more convenient for participants and allows for testing with a wider range of users geographically.
  • Guerrilla testing: An informal, quick, and dirty approach where you find potential users in a public place and ask them to try out your product for a short period. This is a good way to get early feedback, but it may not be representative of your target audience.

Aspects of usability testing

You will generally see that usability testing comprises the following:

  • Recruiting participants: This involves selecting a group of people who represent your target audience for the product being tested. You want a diverse group with a range of backgrounds and technical abilities.
  • Defining test scenarios: Here, you’ll develop a set of realistic tasks that users would typically want to complete with your product. These tasks should align with your goals for usability testing.
  • Testing environment: Usability testing can be conducted in various settings, but it’s important to choose an environment that is controlled and allows for observation and data collection. This might be a usability lab or even a quiet room in an office.
  • Moderation (optional): A moderator can be helpful to guide users through the test scenarios, ask questions, and keep the session on track. However, depending on the type of test, it may not always be necessary.
  • Data collection: Throughout usability testing, you’ll be gathering data on how users interact with the product. This includes both quantitative data, like task completion times and error rates, and qualitative data, like user feedback and observations of their behavior.
  • Analysis and reporting: Once the testing is complete, it’s crucial to analyze the data you’ve collected. This will help you identify usability issues and areas for improvement. You’ll then want to create a report summarizing your findings and recommendations.
  • Iteration and improvement: Usability testing is an iterative process. The findings from your tests should be used to improve your product. Then, you can conduct additional rounds of testing to see if the changes have addressed the initial usability problems.

Stages in usability testing

How is usability testing different from UX testing?

You can view usability testing as a subset of UX testing, focusing more on effectiveness and efficiency, while the latter covers a broader range of factors that influence the total experience a user has with a product. Here’s how the two differ from each other:

Parameter Usability testing UX testing
Focus Focuses specifically on how easy a product is to use and how efficiently users can achieve their goals. It’s like putting a product under a microscope to identify any functional problems or roadblocks. Has a broader scope and looks at the entire user experience with a product. This includes usability, but also considers emotional response, brand perception, and overall satisfaction. It’s like taking a step back to see how the product fits into the user’s journey.
The period when it is conducted in the SDLC Often conducted at later stages of development when there’s already a prototype or near-final product available. It helps refine the product before launch to ensure smooth functionality. Can be done throughout the design process, from early concept stages to assess user needs and preferences to later stages to evaluate the overall user experience of a finished product.
Techniques Typically relies on more structured methods like giving users specific tasks to complete and observing their behavior. It often involves quantitative data collection like time to task completion and error rates. It may use a wider range of techniques, including usability testing methods, but it can also incorporate things like surveys, interviews, and card sorting exercises. It might involve more qualitative data analysis, like user feedback and emotional responses.
Metrics used Common metrics include task completion rate, error rate, time to complete tasks, and direct user feedback about the difficulty of tasks. Can include usability metrics plus user satisfaction, emotional responses, brand perception, and long-term engagement.

Thus, usability testing is like checking the mechanics of a car – making sure the engine runs smoothly and the brakes work effectively. UX testing is like taking the car for a test drive – seeing how it handles different situations and how enjoyable the ride is overall.

Why should you do usability testing?

Through usability testing, you can ensure the following:

  • Identify user problems early: Usability testing allows you to discover issues with your product’s design that might not be evident to developers or designers but are problematic for users. Identifying these issues early can save time and resources by preventing costly revisions after the product has been launched.
  • Improve user satisfaction: By testing how real users interact with your product and addressing any frustrations they encounter, you can enhance their overall satisfaction. This leads to a more positive user experience, increased user retention, and higher user engagement.
  • Reduce development costs: Fixing problems after a product has been developed can be expensive. Usability testing helps catch issues in the early stages of development, leading to fewer revisions and a more cost-efficient development process.
  • Enhance product effectiveness: Usability testing ensures that the product functions as intended and helps users achieve their goals efficiently. This effectiveness is crucial for the success of any tool or service, as it directly impacts user adoption and loyalty.
  • Gain user insights: Usability testing provides valuable insights into user behavior, preferences, and needs. This information is essential for tailoring the product to meet the actual needs of its users rather than assumptions made by the product team.
  • Support accessibility: It helps identify accessibility issues, ensuring that the product is usable by people with various disabilities. This not only expands the user base but also complies with legal standards and ethical practices in many industries.
  • Validate design decisions: It acts as a check to validate design decisions based on user feedback rather than subjective opinions. This objective assessment can reinforce the product strategy and ensure that the user interface is intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Competitive advantage: Products that are easy to use and meet user needs effectively tend to stand out in the market. Usability testing can give you a competitive advantage by elevating the user experience, potentially leading to better market performance.

When to automate usability testing?

The essence of usability testing is to understand what users expect out of the product. Having said that, there are instances wherein you can complement human testing with automated testing.

  • Repetitive tasks: Usability testing often involves users completing a set of tasks. If these tasks are well-defined and repetitive, automation can be a time-saver. Automated scripts can efficiently run users through these tasks and collect data on things like clicks, navigation paths, and time spent on each step.
  • Large numbers of participants: If you need to gather feedback from a large number of users, automated testing can be more efficient and cost-effective than traditional in-person testing. This can be useful for getting baseline usability data.
  • Rapid iteration: In agile development environments where there are frequent design changes, automated testing can be used to quickly assess the usability impact of those changes. This allows for faster iteration and quicker identification of usability issues.
  • Accessibility testing: Automated tools can be used to check for accessibility compliance, ensuring your product can be used by people with disabilities. This is a crucial aspect of usability but can be time-consuming to test manually. Read more about How to Build an ADA-compliant App.
  • Regression testing: After making changes to your product, you’ll want to ensure core functionalities haven’t been compromised. Automated testing can be used for regression purposes to verify that basic tasks can still be completed successfully after updates or bug fixes.
  • Limited resources: If you have limited time or budget for usability testing, automation can be a more cost-effective way to gather some basic usability data. It’s important to remember that automation shouldn’t replace all usability testing, but it can be a helpful supplement.

Tools for automating usability testing

Automating usability testing usually means using different tools to automate various aspects of usability testing like scenario automation, remote unmoderated testing, accessibility testing, and user session recording and analytics. Here are some tools that can help you.

  • testRigor: This AI-powered tool is one of the best there is for automating routine workflows. It lets you use plain English language to do it, making it easy to create test cases. You can cover regression tests, end-to-end tests, functional tests, UI tests, and even accessibility testing across devices and browsers.
    Not just that, you can automate all kinds of scenarios and even integrate with other platforms like CI/CD tools to expand your QA ecosystem. You can automate mouse clicks, scrolls, movements using testRigor’s natural language commands. Perform web, mobile (hybrid, native), API, database, desktop testing using the single intelligent tool.
  • Hotjar: You can get heatmaps, click recordings, and session recordings to see how users navigate your website or app. This can help identify areas of confusion or frustration and track user journeys.
  • Crazy Egg: Similar to Hotjar, Crazy Egg offers heatmaps, click recordings, and scroll maps to visualize user behavior on your web pages. This can help you understand where users are focusing their attention and identify potential conversion bottlenecks.
  • Mouseflow: Another popular tool for session recording and user behavior analytics. Mouseflow allows you to see mouse movements, clicks, scrolls, and form interactions, providing insights into how users interact with your interface.
  • Maze: A continuous discovery platform that allows for both moderated and unmoderated usability testing. Maze offers features like automated recruiting and screening of participants, as well as basic analytics to analyze test results.
  • UserTesting: While primarily focused on moderated remote testing, UserTesting offers the option to add automated pre-tests to gather initial usability data before conducting live sessions.
  • Loop11: Another usability testing platform with features like automated recording and transcription of user sessions. Loop11 uses AI-powered summaries to help analyze test results more efficiently.
  • UserZoom: UserZoom offers remote usability testing with a mix of automated and manual testing tools. It can capture user interactions, provide heatmaps, and record user sessions to help understand user behavior.

Tips to get the most out of usability testing

  • Pick the right participants: This can be a critical misstep. Usability testing relies on getting feedback from users who represent your target audience. If you recruit people who don’t fit your ideal user profile, their experiences won’t be relevant, and the insights you gather won’t be helpful.
  • Give clear tasks: Participants need to understand what you expect them to achieve during the testing session. If the tasks are poorly defined or ambiguous, users may get confused, take longer to complete tasks, or even complete them incorrectly. This can cloud the usability issues you’re trying to identify.
  • Focus on user behavior, not opinions: Don’t be discouraged if users express negative feedback. The goal is to observe their behavior and identify areas where they’re struggling, not to get validation of your design choices.
  • Think beyond success rates: While it’s important to measure how well users complete tasks, also consider their emotional responses and overall level of satisfaction.
  • Keep it simple and user-friendly: The testing process itself should be easy for participants to understand and navigate. Don’t overwhelm them with complex instructions or tasks.
  • Be transparent and ethical: Obtain informed consent from participants and explain how their data will be used. Remember, the goal is to learn from them and improve your product, not to judge their abilities.
  • Focus on quality over quantity: It’s better to have a small group of well-chosen participants than a large group that doesn’t represent your target audience.
  • Don’t lead the witness: Avoid asking questions that suggest the answer you’re looking for. Let users express their thoughts and frustrations freely.
  • Be objective: The goal is to identify usability problems, not to validate your initial design assumptions.
  • Focus on user needs over features: Don’t get caught up in trying to showcase all the features of your product. The focus should be on whether those features meet the needs of your users and how users interact with them.

Conclusion

Usability testing can help set your product apart in today’s crowded market. By watching users and listening to their feedback, you can identify usability problems and make your products more user-friendly. This can lead to happier customers, more sales, and a better overall experience for everyone.

While at it, use automation strategically to complement your usability testing efforts. It can be a great tool for handling repetitive tasks, gathering data from large groups, and running quick tests during iteration cycles. However, human testers are still essential for deeper insights into user behavior and the “why” behind usability issues.

Additional resources

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the advantages of automating usability testing?

Automating usability testing can save time and resources, provide consistent and reliable results, facilitate high-volume testing, and help integrate usability testing into the development process. It also allows for testing across different environments and devices, ensuring broad coverage.

Can automation replace manual usability testing?

No, automation should complement manual testing rather than replace it. Manual testing allows for deeper insights into complex user behaviors and preferences, which automated tests might not capture. Automation is best used for quantitative data gathering and routine checks. Here is a step-by-step guide for Transitioning from Manual to Automated Testing using testRigor.

How do you integrate automated usability testing into the development process?

Automated usability testing can be integrated into the development process through continuous integration tools, where tests are run automatically whenever changes are made to the codebase. This ensures that usability aspects are considered consistently throughout the development lifecycle.

What challenges might you face when automating usability testing?

Challenges include setting up initial test scripts, maintaining the relevance of test cases as the product evolves, dealing with automated tools’ limitations in interpreting human emotions or reactions, and the initial investment in tools and training.

What are the best practices for setting up automated usability testing?

Best practices include clearly defining the objectives and scope of testing, choosing the right tools based on the testing needs, regularly updating and maintaining test scripts, and combining automated testing with manual testing to cover both quantitative and qualitative usability aspects.

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