How to conduct a full usability test

Usability testing is a useful tool in the developer's toolbox, but needs to be done consistently and fairly in order to make sure that everyone's expectations are met.


Set up the PC in advance

  • Log in to the PC
  • Open the browser you want them to use and go to the first page of the site or application you are testing
  • Turn on TechSmith Morae and webcam (if you are using these)
  • Check that everything is working as expected

On arrival

  • Chat to the tester and put them at their ease
  • Read the tester the usability test preamble
  • Get the participant to sign a consent form 
The usability test preamble is important because:
  • it sets the test in context for them
  • it informs them of their rights
  • it explains to them what to do (especially thinking out loud)
  • it makes sure that they are aware that it is the website that is being tested and not them (this is quite a common fear)

During the test

  • Make notes about the test 
  • Use single letter codes for common incidents 

Why do you need to make notes?

  • The video is only a back-up and may not work in any case
  • If you don't make notes during the test, someone will have to go back and watch the video to make them
  • The annotations on the notes help in producing the usability report and recommendations

How should you make notes?

  • Make a note of their role, e.g. undergraduate student in Architecture, postgraduate student in Economics
  • Notes should be laid out with the question number, followed by a brief description of what they did in response to that question
  • If you think something needs changing in the site as a result of what they did, put R in a circle next to that note - if you have time, note what you think the change should be
  • If they needed a hint, put H in a circle next to that note
  • If they gave up on the task, put F (for Fail) in a circle next to that note
  • If they had to go back or click on a different link, note that down
  • If they hesitated, put P (for Pause) in a circle next to that note
  • If they make a comment about something, note that down, preceded by C in a circle
  • All usability test notes should be anonymised.

Things to be aware of (but not to put in notes):
  • Facial expression
  • Frequent use of the back button
  • Scrubbing the page or menus with the mouse
  • Lots of eye or head movement
  • Body language, fidgeting
These will tell you if the person is confused or lost

Finishing off

  • Thank the tester for their participation
  • Give them their reward (e.g. Amazon Gift certificate)
  • See them out of the building if necessary
  • Set the PC up for the next test, or log off if it's the last one of the day

Writing the usability report

  • Make a list of the recommendations arising from the tests
  • Put next to each recommendation how many of the tests supported it (or opposed it)
  • Have a section for general feedback collected during the tests
  • Make a list of any failures that occurred

Useful links

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