What is Usability Testing?

In the Web Analytics community, many of us are unfamiliar with lab usability testing. In this article, we will explain what lab usability testing is, how to conduct a test, tips for successful tests, the benefits of lab usability testing, and potential pitfalls. User Research involves observing how we interact with websites, software, or hardware and using those observations to improve them. This can be done in a lab environment or in people’s natural environments, such as their homes or offices. In this article we will cover:

    • What is lab usability testing?
    • How to conduct a test.
    • Tips on conducting successful tests.
    • Benefits of lab usability testing.
    • Things to watch out for.

What is lab usability testing?

Lab usability testing is a process that measures a user’s ability to complete specific tasks within a designated context of use, and assesses effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. Typically, these tests involve eight to twelve participants, and patterns begin to emerge with as few as five users. The tests are conducted by a User Centric Design/Human Factors expert, with key stakeholders observing to gain a better understanding of the customer experience. These stakeholders can include business owners, engineers and developers, web analysts, product managers, or anyone involved in the website or customer experience.

Usability tests can be conducted with live or beta versions of a website, on-screen HTML or PowerPoint prototypes, paper printouts, or wireframes. The tests are typically held in a specially designed room called a usability lab, which is divided into two rooms by a one-way mirrored window. Alternatively, a usability lab can be set up in any quiet room with a computer, as long as all observers remain silent and out of the test subject’s sight.

As test subjects work on their tasks, a test moderator observes and takes notes on their actions, recording whether or not the participant is able to complete the task, in what length of time, and taking what steps. The moderator provides initial task instructions and occasionally prompts the participant to further explain their comments. The note taker is responsible for recording the session and making note of important points, while observers do the same.

Lab usability tests are best suited for optimizing UI designs, workflows, understanding the voice of the customer, and gaining insight into what customers really do. Additionally, eye tracking, emotional detection, and EEG signals can be used in usability testing to further understand the user experience. Eye tracking can determine where the user is looking and for how long, while emotional detection can measure the user’s emotional response to the product. EEG signals can detect the user’s level of engagement and attention, providing additional insights into the user experience. Overall, usability testing is a critical step in creating a user-friendly and successful product.


How to conduct a test:

To conduct a successful Lab Usability test, there are four stages:

  1. Preparation: Identify critical tasks, create scenarios, define success criteria, recruit participants, determine compensation, conduct dry runs.
  2. Conduct the test: Welcome participants, start with a “think aloud” exercise, have participants read tasks aloud, observe participants, ask follow-up questions, thank participants, and pay them.
  3. Analysis of the data: Debrief with observers, note trends and patterns, tally successes and failures, identify root causes, make recommendations for improvements, and categorize recommendations.
  4. Follow up, bug until fixes made, test again, and measure success: Collaborate with business owners to fix problems, use UCD expertise to improve site experience, and measure success post-implementation.

To keep funding for testing efforts, consistent track records of positive outcomes such as increased revenue, customer satisfaction, and lower abandonment rates should be shown.


Tips on Lab Usability Tests:

  • Emphasize to participants that the website/product/software is being tested, not them.
  • Focus on participant behavior rather than what they say about their experience.
  • Avoid giving answers to participant questions; instead, ask for more information or hypothetical scenarios.
  • Be aware of your body language to avoid giving subtle clues to participants.


Benefits of Lab Usability Tests:

Lab tests are a valuable way to observe and interact with customers, which is especially important since most employees never see a real customer. These tests can help identify big problems early on for complex experiences, as well as what is working or not for existing experiences. Additionally, lab tests can be a useful tool for generating ideas to solve customer problems.



As a User Researcher/Human Factors Specialist, what are your thoughts on the quant guy’s post? Do you have any tips, experiences, or feedback to share? Please let us know in the comments.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. iroom

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