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What is UX usability testing?

What is UX usability testing?

User Experience usability testing allows one to understand the end user, estimate the business value of a project and determine what should be fixed in order to improve results. They can be carried out on different stages of the project, during:

  • the creation of a new site of product,
  • prototype testing,
  • redesign,
  • the process of improving an existing product.

UX tests gauge the functionality of a website, online store or app by examining the experiences of a chosen test group. Such tests consist of observing users and gathering useful information about their behaviors, needs and expectations. Read on to find out why UX tests are worth conducting, what exactly these tests are and when to conduct them. 

When to carry out UX usability testing and why it is worth it

Owners and designers of a page or app aren’t able to fully evaluate whether their product is working as intended. Why? Even though they know and understand it, they lack the perspective of their creation’s end user. Usability testing enables one to verify the chosen direction, single out the important elements and find bugs, like a faulty button or link.

Usability tests are qualitative, which means that there’s not much numbers involved, instead they focus on soft observations and comments. They greatly complement quantitative analyses. Numbers from Google Analytics can direct you to an issue, and UX tests can get the underlying causes straight from the actual users. 

Advantages of UX usability tests: 

  • They allow you to see how your site is perceived by users,
  • They gather reliable information from the users and unravel their typical behaviors,
  • They detect bugs and mistakes on the site,
  • They allow you to eliminate usability problems and improve navigation, which in turn increases user satisfaction and conversions, decreasing the bounce rate,
  • They make it possible to reduce the time needed for realizing the user’s goals.

Any time is good for conducting usability tests, and in an ideal world they are carried out regularly, even once a month. However, few boast the budget and time needed for such an effort. Bearing that in mind, the best moments for usability testing would be: creation of a new site, site redesign, after implementing lots of changes on the site, a period of few conversions and high bounce rate.

Types of UX usability testing 

A number of methods of usability testing exist, but you really need only one that is best for your specific situation, budget and time limitations. Some of these types of tests can be helmed by one person, others require users, scenarios and a concrete process. You can find a short description of the most often used research methods below.  

  1. Usability tests

Usability tests are one of the most efficient and most often used research methods. Usually they are carried out on a group of 5-10 users. They consist of detailed interviews coupled with performing tasks on the researched website or a constructed prototype. These tasks are assigned to a group of users representative of a specific group of all the sites, or product’s users. 

Usability tests can be carried out: 

  • In an automated fashion, through scripts and special software, when there is no person leading the test. This is a more pricey option, but a very fitting one when we want to test a lot of people and we want it fast. On the other hand, human-lead tests allow one to choose an option that’s crafted to a given site. 
  • Live, when the test lead is in the room with a user.
  • Remotely, when the test lead connects with the user on a video call and can see the user’s shared screen.
  • Using a predefined scenario, containing tasks based on model behaviors of the site users. This may be, e.g., searching for a category and buying a product in an online store, or signing up for a newsletter on a company blog. This aims at verifying key user paths and actions that can be performed on the site or in the app.

Each user performs the task and comments on the efficiency of the process step by step and notes any observed mistakes or bugs. Usability tests show whether the framework of a given system is understandable, how it is actually being used and if it’s intuitive and whether the required information is laid out properly.

  1. Individual In-depth Interviews

Another popular research method is the in-depth interview. They are often used to gather information about a given target group’s expectations. The interview is conducted with a single user and lasts about an hour. 

An in-depth interview is carried out based on a previously prepared scenario. You need a set of questions, preferably open ones, which will allow you to dive deep and ask for details to get to the bottom of the issues at hand and get to know the user’s needs and motivations.

  1. Heuristic analysis

This is a quick, cheap and efficient method to find potential usability issues. It’s most often conducted by an expert who analyzes specific screens and navigation paths based on best practices, experiences and hypotheses. However, you can also ask people without a UX background to go through your site based on a previously prepared checklist. 

We can list a few heuristic models, but they all take a few common factors into account:

  • Relevancy. Does the site meet the users’ expectations? 
  • Clarity. Are the offer and content of the site clear and understandable?
  • Value. Do the offer and content of the site present value to the users? How can we increase their interest?
  • Convenience. Is using the site convenient? Is it easy to achieve one’s goal?
  • Trust. Do the site’s construction, company description and its presentation build the users’ trust?
  • Stimuli. Does the site contain elements that speed up the realization of one’s goal?


Heuristic analysis is a preliminary check during which it’s good to check the issues we find with different methods. One aspect of such analysis may be viewed as a drawback - its quality may be contingent on the knowledge and experience of the person conducting the analysis.

  1. Focus groups

This is a moderated study based on an open or guided discussion between 6 to 8 participants, allowing the researcher to get to know their emotions, opinions and motivations.

The discussion is lead based on a previously prepared scenario, which uses projection techniques that allow for understanding the participants’ views that they do not disclose openly. The scenario should touch on important areas and ask questions which will encourage the participants to discuss and confront their opinions.

Focus groups don’t have to be limited to the site’s usability, but they can also deal with the offer, products or the company’s communication. They can also be devoted to finding new, innovative and creative solutions.

  1. Card sorting

This is a research method borrowed from psychology, the so-called ‘mental models’ that are responsible for how we understand how certain things work. These are assumptions, convictions, frameworks and categories that exist in our minds and allow us to interpret reality.

Card sorting is a method that exposes the users’ mental models when they assign elements of the page to certain groups. This can be carried out in a few ways, depending on: 

  1. Type of sorting, of which we can name 3: 
  • closed, where the categories are predefined and the users assign specific elements to them;
  • open, where the users themselves group the elements they get assigned and think up names of the groups themselves, too;
  • free list, where the users themselves think up the elements, groups and their names (this type is especially effective at the beginning of the site creation process).
  1. Conducting method:
  • moderated or lead by the users themselves;
  • on paper or digital;
  • in groups or individually.

Card sorting is a very useful method when building the architecture of information on the site. It allows you to get to know where the users would look for specific content. It’s especially good for sprawling structures, like in e.g. webstores, digital film or book collections.

  1. Eye tracking

Eye tracking is a research method based on tracking a user’s line of sight path - the movement of their eyeballs and has been in use for more than 100 years in different branches of science. When it comes to UX, it’s used to gauge the usability of websites. This method provides information on the order in which given elements catch the users’ eye, which of them were looked at the most, and which got completely omitted.

Eye tracking requires specialist equipment that tracks the user’s eye movements through special caps or electrodes. Such apparatus enables researchers to gather precise information, but it is rather pricey. Alternatively, this can also be conducted using a webcam - there is a lot of different platforms offering web eye tracking solutions. 

The research results are presented in three forms: 

  • Heat map. A visual representation of data in which different hues of colors are superimposed on a screengrab of the site. When used for eye tracking, this shows areas of the page that users looked at the most. 
  • Eye tracking map. Another visual method presenting an arrangement of lines or circles with numbers that when combined create a path of the user’s line of sight.
  • Eyeball movement recording. It’s a video recording of the study with the user’sline of sight path superimposed on the image. Such a video allows for constant analyses of exactly which elements at what moment were observed and for how long.

  1. Analyzing user session recordings

A session recording makes it possible to examine how users move around the site and to discover problematic areas and technical errors. There is a plethora of tools registering user sessions. All you have to do is install an app on the site, and it records the movements of the visitor’s cursor. Each session yields a video that you can then watch to see how the users move around the site.

When taking advantage of this method, each session must be analyzed individually, which is quite time-consuming. You also never know exactly who the recorded user is and what their goal on the site was. 

  1. Heatmaps

A visual method of presenting data on the users’ behavior on site. Different shades of colors are superimposed on a site’s screenshot - usually, red denotes the most popular elements, then yellow, then blue or green. 

Heatmaps are used to visualize data gathered through: 

  • Click tracking - tracking the user’s clicks on the site;
  • Scroll tracking - tracking the user’s scrolls of the page;
  • Attention tracking - analyzing the elements of the site that catch user attention. 

Heatmaps are a static image of the situation, so they can show, e.g., how many people scrolled down to a given element, but they don’t show how long the users stayed there - whether anything there was an issue for them or piqued their interest. Session recordings provide answers to these questions, and this is why these two methods greatly complement each other. 


UX tests uncover the actual needs of the actual users in the right time. They enable us to properly match products and services to a user, improve their comfort of use and, in turn, lead to increases in conversions.

There is a breadth of options when it comes to UX testing, making it possible to choose the one that best fits our situation. Most of them do not require a substantial investment, and in the long run allow for significant savings. Confronting an idea with its target audience pretty much always ends up with the necessity of introducing important changes.

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