Introduction to Product Usability Testing

Usability is one of those crucial elements of a product that we tend to take for granted. When you pick up an object and use it, you often don't think about the countless hours and immeasurable thought that has gone into making that item do what it's intended purpose is.

Countless hours and immeasurable thought have gone into making a product do what it’s intended purpose is.

Usability is one of those crucial elements of a product that we tend to take for granted. When you pick up an object and use it, you often don’t think about the countless hours and immeasurable thought that has gone into making that item do what it’s intended purpose is.

Oftentimes it is easy to think of Usability in web terms. But, before there was web Usability testing, there was Product Usability testing. Today, there are still many firms handling product usability on a contract basis. Andrew interviewed Dr Morgan of User Insight earlier in the year and he gave some great information on Usability testing in general.

So, just for fun, lets get back to basics for a wee bit and understand the benefits of Usability Testing and what it’s purpose really is.

Usability Testing continues to be one of the most important factors of new product design. After the creation of a product, it is very important to verify that when the product goes through human interaction, that it is achieving their objective or goal.

It is often very important to test the usability of a product among people of different ages, genders and demographics. True, you want to create a product true to the original design and have it be as it was intended, but that would be a moot point if, in fact, the product could not be used as intended due to a design flaw. This is the main goal and purpose behind usability testing.

Also, usability testing allows designers to improve upon their design. If someone is interacting with a product in a way that is unanticipated, but could contribute to the improvement of the product, putting that through usability testing is a great way to discover these little changes or improvements. It’s also a great way to see what does not work and eliminate potential problems.

There are several ways that you can conduct usability testing. The main two are privately observed tests, and focus groups. Privately observed usability tests often involve the tester being either left alone with the product and observed or recorded, or having someone observe their interaction. In either case, the users actions and motions are logged and they are often encouraged to speak what they are thinking so that the observer can capture their total reaction to the product.

Focus groups usually involve a group of people discussing the product or responding to questions asked after they have interacted with the product. Both methods of usability testing are successful for different reasons, and it is important to select the right one for the product in question.

In many cases, it is good for a product to go through more than one round of testing and revision before it is released to make sure that it is both usable, and that the concepts and ideas of the designer have been properly recognized and translated.

So if you have a brilliant idea, be sure to really test it before you finish it up. The same can be said for websites too. It’s important to recognize that proper Usability testing is the best way to guarantee the intent of the finished product.

Here is a little food for thought. Think about the fact that someone else had to think about these things first:

  • Nail Clippers
  • Door Knobs
  • Springs
  • Guitar Tuners
  • Car Door Locks
  • Paper Shredders
  • Cutting Boards

Recommended Reading: An Introduction To Usability

About the Author

Redd Horrocks

Redd Horrocks hails from South East England. She moved to Atlanta at the age of eighteen and has enjoyed her life here ever since. She has a degree in Communications and Media Studies and now works in Professional Theatre Administration. She is also a Freelance Writer and runs Distilled Rose, a personal finance blog. Redd also contributes to or manages four other blogs with topics ranging from Personal Finance to Vegetarian Cuisine. Redd is actively involved in the Atlanta blogging community, and is the founder of the Atlanta Bloggers Meetup group. She also works with Andrew as his photography assistant and editor. She likes clean websites and steers away from anything overly bright. Redd also enjoys such womanly pursuits as baking and knitting, but has an unreasonable dislike of mops.

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4 Comments

  • Peter Craddock Reply

    While they are certainly many parallels to be found between product usability testing and web usability testing, there is one fundamental difference (in my opinion): it’s a lot easier to improve web usability. All that is required in most cases is a little change in the code, and so changes can benefit every single user within no time.

    As such, usability testing is an ongoing process, something in which many people take part without realising it: whenever someone sends an e-mail saying “great website, but where is ……? / I found that …… was hard to find”, the designer can improve usability.

  • BebopDesigner Reply

    Nice post! Sometimes clients (at least on web design) take usability for granted, and it’s hard to explain to them the hows and whys of best practices, and how this will benefit their site / service / product. Any ideas on how to approach this situation?

  • Andrew Maier Reply

    @BebopDesigner: This is a question that I get asked frequently, and I still ask myself. I’d like to start by saying it’s not easy. Many clients don’t believe the benefits of you asking, or think that you’re trying to upsell them. That’s fine, you don’t really want those clients.

    If, on the other hand, you *need* those clients, and still want to do a thorough job, things get a bit tricky. Try and find ways to incorporate the client’s users at each phase of your project. even if it’s as simple as identifying who the users should be, and going out on your own and showing them your ideas, that’s better than nothing at all. Later, you can present the client with the information you’ve gathered. It may not be the client’s process, but it’s *your* process. If you’re serious about designing for the user, there really is no other way.

    Lastly, just to king of temper what I said: each part of the UX process requires it’s own pitch. It’s extremely rare to find one person who thinks that all facets of UX design are merited. Therefore, any particular book on any particular part of UX design is going to explain how to sell that phase of the project. What first comes to mind for me is Louis Rosenfeld making the case for Information Architecture in his famous “polar bear” book.

    I guess the best advice I can give is: keep true to the “art” form of UX and your clients will thank you for it in the long run.

  • Usability Studio India Reply

    I need some guidance on how Usability Strategy should be made for a large web application.or if you have some sample document on Usability Strategy, that would be great. Thanks..

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