Mastering usability testing
Planning, recruiting, and running usability studies
“You are not the user” is a classic UX mantra for a reason. Too often, businesses don’t take the time to test their websites or products outside company walls because they assume that their users are just like them. If you’re reading this, the great news is you’ve already bought into the idea that testing with real, representative users is essential. In this three-hour course, you’ll learn how to do usability testing efficiently and effectively so that you get high-quality, honest user insights in a just short period of time.
Through a combination of lectures and hands-on exercises, Elizabeth Allen teaches you techniques and best practices for planning, conducting, and analyzing usability tests. You’ll leave armed with the tools you need to get great data from your users and the confidence to do it all on your own.
What you'll learn-and how you can apply it
By the end of this live, online course, you’ll understand:
- Why, when, and how to plan for usability testing
- How to create a warm, encouraging environment for test participants and quickly make them comfortable with participating
- How to frame your test scenarios and questions so that they don’t lead to biased or misleading findings
- How to create a basic test setup for running and recording test sessions at little to no cost
- Easy-to-use techniques for analyzing data from test sessions and reporting your findings
And you’ll be able to:
- Confidently plan and facilitate in-person and remote usability tests
- Troubleshoot the most common issues and surprises that can come up on test day
- Use appropriate scenarios, unbiased questions, and active listening to get honest user feedback
- Read users’ body language for a deeper understanding of their reactions
- Tease out deep insights from user testing data
This training course is for you because...
- You’re a designer who wants to start validating your work with real users.
- You’re a product manager who wants to foster a user-centric culture on your team.
- You’re interested in starting a career as a UX researcher, and you want a quick overview of the fundamentals.
- A basic understanding of what a usability test is and why it’s valuable (Recommended preparation is enough.)
Assignments to be completed prior to the course:
- If you’re working on a project that could benefit from user testing, brainstorm questions about what sorts of things people should be able to do with your product and how well the product supports them in doing these things. You’ll use this example during in-class exercises to define a real testing plan for your project.
- Read “How to Run a Cheap, Fast, and Incredibly Useful User Test” (article)
- Read “Usability Testing Demystified” (article)
- Read "What Makes Something Usable?" (chapter 1 in Handbook of Usability Testing: How to Plan, Design, and Conduct Effective Tests)
- Watch Usability Testing of Fruit (video)
- Watch B|P Game Research Process (video)
Recommended follow-up materials:
About your instructor
Dr. Elizabeth Allen is a UX researcher, psychologist, and cat owner based in Toronto, Canada. She is the founder of Brazen, a UX research consultancy that helps companies identify and solve critical UX problems in digital and physical products. She has conducted research for a wide variety of companies over her career, including Shopify, United Airlines, Discover, and Mozilla.
Elizabeth loves teaching, and has lectured in psychology and statistics at the University of Chicago, and spoken about UX research at the Pratt School of Information and The University of Waterloo. She also speaks regularly at conferences about all things UX research, most recently at UXPA, Web Directions, and Interaction.
Elizabeth loves teaching, and has lectured in psychology and statistics at the University of Chicago, and spoken about UX research at the Pratt School of Information and The University of Waterloo. She also speaks regularly at conferences about all things UX research, most recently at Web Directions: Respond in Sydney, ConveyUX in Seattle, and Interaction 17 in New York.
The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing
When and why to do usability testing (5 minutes)
- Lecture: What is usability testing?; questions that usability testing can help answer; what sorts of things you can test
Planning your usability test (10 minutes)
- Lecture: The value of planning your test; high-level planning—how to craft great research questions; low-level planning—how to translate research questions into user scenarios
Hands-on exercise 1: Defining research questions and scenarios (15 minutes)
- Using a project you’re currently working on or a mock project proposed by the instructor, come up with three high-level research questions that will help you achieve your goal; for each research question, define one or two scenarios that you could use to get data that addresses it
Structuring a test session (10 minutes)
- Lecture: Creating a welcoming environment; explaining disclosures; warming up the participant; explaining scenarios and the “think aloud” protocol; wrapping up the session
Q&A (10 minutes)
Break (10 minutes)
Recruiting participants (10 minutes)
Lecture: Who and how many people to test; where and how to recruit participants; how to make sure your participants show up on test day
Hands-on exercise 2: Who are your users, and how will you find them? (15 minutes)
- Drawing on your real-life project or the mock situation provided by the instructor, think deeply about the characteristics of your target users; for each characteristic you think of, explain whether it is based on a hunch or on some data you have (If you are using a planned product, there may not yet be any data about who the potential users are, so this question could be more about defining who the intended target users will be.)
- Brainstorm ideas for places (online and out in the world) where you could try to recruit users for your research and create and post two recruitment spots in the group chat, along with a short rationale for why they make sense for finding your target users
Logistics of a flawless test day (10 minutes)
- Lecture: Recording and note-taking strategies; troubleshooting common issues; the importance of a mock session; preparing for and including observers
Q&A (10 minutes)
Break (10 minutes)
Getting high-quality data from test sessions (15 minutes)
- Lecture: Question formatting—how to ask questions that get unbiased answers; question ordering—how to drill down for deep insights; nonverbal communication and body language; listening actively and effectively
Hands-on exercise 3: A discussion on being an unbiased moderator (15 minutes)
- Rewrite a list of biased moderator quotes from a test session to be more open and post your answers in the online discussion
Making sense of the data (20 minutes)
- Lecture: Anecdotes versus insights; techniques for formatting and analyzing usability testing data; prioritizing and acting on issues uncovered by usability testing; how to decide whether more testing is necessary
Wrap-up and Q&A (15 minutes)