There is a lot of pre-work that goes into a solid usability test. You can test data, screens, flows, concept boards, pretty much anything. However, this article is focused on formal usability testing, based on my process, which I’ve developed over the last 8 years.

Why should you do user testing?

You may need help in understanding your users. You may have a concept that you need to validate before spending a ton of money on a developer. You may need to verify pain points for an existing application.

You should test to prove and disprove certain aspects of your hypothesis. You should question everything and formulate options to test based on known variables. Whatever your product, it definitely needs the experience to be tested.

There is no reason, in my mind, why you wouldn’t do some sort of testing, no matter which phase of the process you are in. It’s that critical. You have to make the right choices for your design and unless you are testing with your end users in mind, well, then you might want to rethink your approach.

It may be that I am biased, but I’ve been responsible for changing the direction of projects and even the entire direction of companies based on properly facilitated user research and testing. Having an understanding of what to test and how much time to spend on it can be complicated, especially at large enterprise companies. User research can help direct the organization.

What do you need to do prior to the test?

It goes without saying, but you really need to understand what it is you plan to test to determine what testing is needed. For instance, you might have an understanding of what you perceive the hierarchy and structure of a menu system and want to understand if these options make sense to your users. If so, then you probably don’t need to design the rest of the application to test the names/structure of what is known at the moment. You may be able to conduct a user test with a game called card-sorting.

Let’s say you’re in need of a user test to validate a new concept, design that the project team built out in an interactive prototype.

It is imperative to prepare a user testing script and send out to the project team ahead of the test day. This gives everyone involved a chance to see how to connect to the test as well as get an understanding of what we plan to learn from the research questions.

Be certain to include screenshots in the research document when conducting the test and prefer physical pen to paper when taking notes. Allow for the software to handle capturing the test and don’t worry about capturing every little note possible.

Spend time thinking during the process and allow for the notes to be used for follow-up conversations and as a reference when creating suggestions based on your findings or for starting to design out a page.

What is needed to do the test?

There are several things to consider for the actual test day. It’s important to know if you need to baseline an existing platform or validating new designs. Below are some things you’ll need to have in order to properly conduct a proper user testing session.

  • Software for capturing screen user flows/clicks/eyes/voice/etc
  • Office place or space to conduct tests
  • Properly recruited participants
  • Snacks/Water/Coffee for participants
  • Gift card for the participant if testing with external customers
  • Laptop/Tablet/Phone/Watch with prototype/screens of design you plan to test

As a part of the test, you’ll want to make sure you are looking to hit on certain key heuristics. There are a few general heuristics to follow. Some common heuristics would be:

A design must be …

  • intuitive
  • easy to learn
  • provide efficiency
  • memorable
  • able to reduce errors
  • subjectively satisfactory

It takes a lot of practice to identify these as a part of a screen’s design, but it is possible with having conducted a few tests with a usability analyst.

…post usability study?

Ultimately, you should have a ton of feedback and information from your users. You should be able to properly illustrate what is wrong with a system, where it is working and what next steps the team should take coming out of the tests.

After conducting a few tests and analyzing the findings, patterns will emerge and direction will start to set itself. You should probably re-group with management and users as well as send out a SUS survey to gauge overall usability based on industry standard usability scale.


While you probably don’t have to test 100% of the designs that you’re working on, you might want to have someone work to identify early which projects and functionality will need user testing, so that you can plan accordingly.

Make sure you do your pre-work to set yourself up for success.

Completing your pre-work early will ensure you are testing the right functionality as well as verify that your physical testing space will be set up successfully, including any needed hardware, for the test.

Be sure you’ve spent enough time setting up your research questions and be consistent in their use when interviewing participants. It is important to be consistent with what you ask. However, there are times, depending on the scenario, you will want to change the order in which you ask the questions.

Try adjusting the questions if a pattern forms early. You may be able to change the UI or the interaction if the problem is obvious. Having someone who can prototype an interaction fast on the front end is always a great asset to have on the team.

Be sure to focus on what is wrong and how you think the problem can be fixed during the test. Let your software capture everything for you so that you can concentrate on proving and disproving your hypothesis.