What is Usability Testing

What is Usability testing ? A technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users.
This is in contrast with usability inspection methods where experts use different methods to evaluate a user interface without involving users.
Usability testing measures the usability, or ease of use, of a specific object or set of objects, whereas general human-computer interaction studies attempt to formulate universal principles.

Usability testing is a black-box testing technique. The aim is to observe people using the product to discover errors and areas of improvement.

    * Performance -- How much time, and how many steps, are required for people to complete basic tasks? (For example, find something to buy, create a new account, and order the item.)

    * Accuracy -- How many mistakes did people make? (And were they fatal or recoverable with the right information?)

    * Recall -- How much does the person remember afterwards or after periods of non-use?

    * Emotional response -- How does the person feel about the tasks completed? Is the person confident, stressed? Would the user recommend this system to a friend?

Brief :
Usability testing is a dynamic process that can be used throughout the process of developing interactive multimedia software. The purpose of usability testing is to find problems and make recommendations to improve the utility of a product during its design and development. For developing effective interactive multimedia software, dimensions of usability testing were classified into the general categories of: learnability; performance effectiveness; flexibility; error tolerance and system integrity; and user satisfaction. In the process of usability testing, evaluation experts consider the nature of users and tasks, tradeoffs supported by the iterative design paradigm, and real world constraints to effectively evaluate and improve interactive multimedia software. Different methods address different purposes and involve a combination of user and usability testing, however, usability practitioners follow the seven general procedures of usability testing for effective multimedia development. As the knowledge about usability testing grows, evaluation experts will be able to choose more effective and efficient methods and techniques that are appropriate to their goals.

Usability can be defined as "a measure of the ease with which a system can be learned or used, its safety, effectiveness and efficiency, and attitude of its users towards it" .

Usability testing determines whether a system meets a pre-defined, quantifiable level of the usability for specific types of user carrying out specific tasks. Traditionally, software products including information materials and multimedia software have been evaluated by means of marketplace reviews, magazine reviews, and beta tests, but these approaches leave too little time for major modifications and improvement of products . As the process of observing and collecting data from users while they interact with multimedia prototypes, usability testing can be used to address and solve a system's usability problems before it goes into production.

The aim of usability testing is not to solve problems, or to enable a quantitative assessment of usability . It provides a means of identifying problem areas, and the extracting of information concerning problems, difficulties, weaknesses and areas for improvement. Even if usability testing should reveal difficulties or faults that cannot be corrected in the model under development, the information is still important for the designers in planning for the future release of a product .

Usability testing may serve a number of different purposes: to improve an existing product; to compare two or more products; to measure a system against a standard or a set of guidelines . It can also be used as a comparison test: usability of a product is compared against competitors' products, and serves as a verification tool- a way to check user reaction to new features .

Usability testing is concerned with 'fitness for use of a system,' and as such it can be a powerful instructional systems development (ISD) tool for identifying problems with multimedia interface as defined by the specific user rather than the interface as designed by the instructional systems designers . With usability testing, rapid prototyping in the multimedia production process is beginning to emerge as a way to test design approaches and user interfaces, and will reduce the software development cycle while at the same time increasing effectiveness .

It has been indicated that maxims of usability for software developers:

(a) design for the software end user, not for the designers/clients;
(b) test the multimedia software, not the user;
(c) test usability with real users early and often;
(d) don't test everything at once;
(e) measure performance of real-world tasks with software, not functionality of the program; and
(f) test usability problems that software designers never imagined.

It gauges how a web site compares to a competitor, a company's historical standard, or to a project specific objective. This test measures consistency among all users against a predetermined benchmark and is therefore quantitative in nature. Because the validation test is used to accredit the site's ability to meet its designers' goals, it is conducted near the end of a web site's development cycle. The test is capable of determining which criteria are being met and reasons for those not met. For validation testing, the parameters of performance among targeted users typically exceed speed and accuracy. They can include ranking preferences both within the site itself and amongst similar competitor sites.

A usability test is a formal evaluation process that has as its goal improvement of the usability of the product being tested. It differs from a quality assurance or quality test, which has as its goal assessing whether the product works according to specifications. It differs from a customer assurance test, a pilot test, and a beta test because the usability test ensures the collection of systematic, recorded, quantifiable data and observation of behaviors.

A usability test has these five characteristics:
Each test has specific goals and concerns that are tested
The participants represent real users (6 to 12 participants are typical)
The participants do real tasks
The participants are observed and recorded
The data is analyzed, problems diagnosed, and recommendations made

A usability test consists of these activities:
• Planning the test, developing participants profiles, identifying participants from user pool, creating test materials, writing task scenarios, determining usability criteria and measures
• Preparing the test location, pilot testing materials and procedures
• Introducing the participant to the situation, the product, and the procedure
• Running of the task-based test, where participants are asked to complete a series of tasks that address the specific goals and concerns being tested.
• Participants are asked to "think aloud" (articulate their thoughts, feelings, and actions). This data, and the recorded video images, helps target areas that re confusing, unclear, or misleading during the analysis stage.
• Debriefing the participant to get final thoughts, subjective feelings about the product, and suggestions for improvement.
• Analyzing the data, making recommendations, and documenting findings

The deliverable from a usability test is a report that details the problems encountered by the participants and recommendations for change based on known human factors, cognitive, and behavioral principles, and recognized best practices.

Going into details gives us several terms and terminologies as per the way they are practised in the Usability Testing perspective . Currently we are with three methodologies based on the ergonomics and the intent of the Testing.

Laboratory Testing.
Onsite Testing.
Remote Testing.

Our sole goal is to attain the maximum possible number of the Usability issues with minimum product knowledge and having variety of end user as per their expertise level on the internet products and usage. Again while taking any decision on introducing the raised change request by the Usability testing co-ordinator need to be assessed for the impacts on the ROI before commiting for the change.
Industry has several tools on the Usability testing for features like fonts and color size consistencies such as Firebug, MeasureIt et al , which is being practised extensively for conducting the Usability Testing.

Though it still is not very developed and marketed domain within the Testing world but its Impact as assessed by several growing Internet based business hubs is presumed to be pretty high and a lot more growth is expected in the same.


  1. Hi friends,

    This site is about usability testing, it try to conduct with the website or application's target audience. a single website may have content for consumers and a separate login area for site administrators. It is likely that these two user groups perform different tasks as part of their normal website usage. Thanks a lot.

    Website Usability Testing

  2. Hi all,

    Nice information you have provided! Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by testing it on users. If you develop your web sites, you need to be doing usability testing. Thanks a lot.....

    Extract Web

  3. Thanks for giving the detailed information.
    Keep up your good work.

  4. Hi, this is a good article and captures the essence of Usability Testing. As they say it is not useful if it is not usable. Usability testing is particularly recommended in applications that have a lot of customer facing ends. Retail and Banking are the two major verticals that need to look at usability testing with renewed vigor to ensure customers don’t attrite. Public sector and Government institutions also need to ensure their applications pass the usability testing toll gate. As you rightly pointed out Performance, Accuracy, Recall and Emotional response are the 4 cornerstones of usability. From an industry perspective, these are most important for ‘customer facing channel’ intensive industries.

  5. Thanks for the article...Really it is a very good work!


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