All your online usability testing questions answered, from user testing best practices to unorthodox testing methods

Usability testing has been around for decades now. But back in the 1970s, when IT systems were first starting to show their potential to change how we work and live, software usability testing was very different.

Those early user tests were carried out face to face in anonymous hotel rooms with a whole testing paraphernalia of stopwatches, VHS tapes and hefty paper reports. Don’t believe us? Just check out this trip down memory lane written by Bob Bailey in Web Usability. You gotta love those 70s photos!

Nowadays, usability testing is a different ball game. Perhaps the biggest change has been the shift towards remote user testing, facilitated by PaaS cloud computing and some amazingly innovative user testing tools.

Such a quantum leap (can we get a shout out for that other awesome blast from the past??) means that user testing best practices and methodologies are changing all the time. Check out our these quick tips to help you get your remote user testing off on the right foot, even if you’re a usability newbie.

What is a usability test and do i need to do one?

This is kind of basic, but let’s start from the top. According to Usability.gov, the phrase ‘usability test’ refers to “evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users.” Usability (or user) tests can take a variety of forms, but all intend to collect data about how a product performs and how users interact with that product. That data is then used to improve the product. Simple!

Do you need to run a usability test? If you’re engaged in building a software, application or single feature, the answer is almost certain to be yes.


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What are the pros of usability testing? And the cons?

The pros of usability testing are pretty plain. The design and product team catch a ton of errors before moving to the development phase, the value proposition is strengthened, qualitative user experience is quantified, and areas for improvement are identified. And everything is backed up by provable evidence, by data. God usability testing can heklp you get buy-in for ideas and understand your users better throughout the design process.

Now for the cons. Back when Bob Bailey started out testing in the 70s, the cons were that you had to go out and find people to test, get together with them and produce reams of recordings and reports.

But all that has changed. Now it’s possible to run remote user testing with professionally select and segmented target users all around the world, record their faces, their voices, their eye movements, whatever you want, then have the data visualized all pretty within 24 hours. Remote usability testing is cheaper, faster and better than its analog forefathers.

How do I do usability testing online?

Online, or remote, usability testing is when testers don’t actually sit down in the same physical space as testees. It’s all done virtually with online usability testing tools and web and mobile prototypes or wireframes.

Using a prototyping tool such as Justinmind, you can integrate your prototypes or wireframes with a range of user testing tools and get almost immediate feedback from real life users. All you have to do is upload the design to Justinmind’s online account, pick the usability testing tool you want to test your ideas with, and create a public URL. Download Justinmind now and you can build prototypes from scratch.

As for the methodologies and approaches you could follow to test your wireframes and prototypes, that’s where the fun starts. There are tons of possible ways to remotely test prototypes depending on where you are the in the design development lifecycle. We recommend going to the NN Group, UX and usability jedis, for advice on approaches.

Check out these 7 awesome usability testing tools!

Remote usability testing best practices (and possible tripwires)

Possible challenges to remote usability testing range from security issues to the dreaded technical difficulties.   Plus you can’t see all the user or control their whole environment – something totally unrelated (like scratching an itch!) could impact on your results and you wouldn’t know it.

  • Define test questions and activities beforehand
  • Allow enough time to deal with possible tech glitches; wifi connection is a fickle beast
  • Recruit more users than you think you need. Someone is always going to be flakey
  • If you will be monitoring the test, rehearse ahead of time. You do not want to end up looking like an amateur

For more detailed advice on remote testing high fidelity prototypes, try this Usability geek guide

Whoa there, I don’t want to run formal tests. I just want feedback!

Aha, so you’re at the stage of needing informal feedback from your team or from clients. You can also do that remotely with Justinmind. Again, you just publish prototypes to your Online account, create a public URL and send that to anyone you need to.

Reviewers can review wireframes or prototypes on any device or browser with the public link. They can leave comments on specific UI elements or on the design as a whole. As the prototype owner, you have the final word over reviewer access. It’s like launching your application before development – more time to iterate and improve your work, less money wasted.

How to run remote usability tests – that’s a wrap

Running online or remote usability tests is all a matter of leveraging the right technology and staying organized. There are plenty of online resources out there to help you do remote testing – so get started on your web and mobile prototypes and good luck!

Did you use Justinmind to create and remotely test a prototype? We want to know how it went! Drop us a line in the comments.

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How to define, validate and review applications before starting to code are his thing. He is interested in everything related to web, mobile and desktop apps and how to prototype and simulate them before development starts. After hours he’s flexing his math muscles.

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