Happy new year! I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Years break reflecting on 2017 and setting new year resolutions for 2018. I thought it would be great to share how we normally plan usability tests for anyone that wants to start running usability tests.

Plan what you want to test

Define your goal

  1. Know what you want to get out of the user test by coming up with a hypothesis to test against. For example, you might have a hypothesis that it’s hard for users to subscribe to your newsletter because the subscribe button is too small.
  2. Next, planning a set of questions to help you understand your participant’s background and where they’re coming from. Not only is this a great way to get participants comfortable with you but when it comes to analysing the data you can take things into account like maybe a participant doesn’t normally ever use a website to complete a certain task but because they are doing this usability test they have to. Then you can attribute some of their actions to that.
  3. Next, come up with scenarios you’d like participants to embody and walk through to complete certain tasks.
    Try to brainstorm a few different ones and think of what actions you want participants to do that you’d consider a success. These should directly tie back to the goal you’re trying to achieve

Pro tips:

Plan your test to run between 30-45 mins. This is a good sweet spot as the longer the sessions, the harder it is to keep participants engaged in the session.

A rule of thumb is having 1 goal at a time so that you can immediately action changes to fix the most critical usability issues.

1 Day before your test

Don’t forget the logistics such as:

  • Booking a meeting room
  • Setting up laptops with your prototype / website loaded or setting up phones with the app / website loaded
  • Setting up video and audio recording
  • Doing a dry run of your test with a teammate – you may even be able to rope that teammate in to be a note taker for and observer for you in the real sessions 🙂
  • Don’t forget to prepare incentives like gift cards to give to participants as compensation for their time.

Pro tips:

If you can, set up screen sharing software so that your teammates can jump in to watch along in real time. This helps keep the team on the same page and you can ask everyone to write down the top 3 usability issues that can be fixed in the next iteration / sprint. This also means that you don’t need to waste time writing up a full blown usability report that no one reads.

There are heaps of inexpensive options you can go with such as:
Skype (free)
Gotomeeting (free)
Google Meet (free)
Slack screen sharing (if you already have a paid Slack account)

On the day

Leave around half an hour to an hour to prepare and set up the room before participants start rolling in. Don’t forget to:

  • Grab water and snacks for yourself and participants
  • Go through the motions of the previous day in your dry run and you should be all set!

Pro tips:

During the testing sessions, if you find that a scenario isn’t getting you the insights you need or if you have a question you want to drop, don’t be afraid to change it for the next participant.

You’re not under the same scrutiny of quantitative research where you have to strictly follow a method and have constant variables and only ever change 1 variable at a time. It’s not a science experiment because you’re not set out to prove something but to find what the next step is. Read more about the difference between qualitative vs quantitative research methods in our previous blog article.

Other Resources

For more quick and easy guides, check out Steve Krug’s book called Don’t Make Me Think which has detailed step by step guides along with usability scripts that you can follow. He has other awesome resources including:

Consent forms


“Things a therapist would say” (List of things the facilitator can say while the participant is doing the tasks)

You can find more of his resources in the Downloads section of his site own site called Sensible.com

Comment below if you have questions or want to share any experiences or pitfalls to avoid when running usability tests 🙂