Most people would agree that conducting UX research and usability testing is extremely important to the eventual success of a product. However not every may know how or where to start.
We look at a talk between Mustafa, Design advocate at Google, and Jenny Gove, senior UX researcher about methods of usability testing, its relevance today and the importance of hiring UX researchers.
Getting started with UX Research and Usability Testing
A quick and easy way to get started with usability testing is with hallway testing – to have friends, family or colleagues use the products and complete the tasks that need to be tested. This way, the product gets some initial, albeit much needed exposure. But more importantly, the person conducting the usability testing would gain some valuable insights on the efficacy of the product, and would be able to comprehend why a particular product does or does not work well. It is a great idea to start small and gain a certain amount of confidence before stepping into the next level. Gradually, a broader range of users could be involved during the course of the usability testing to ensure that the research is free from the biases that come along with friends, family or close circles.
Foundational and Secondary Research
However, there are other essential forms of research that need to be conducted even before pursuing usability testing. The first real form of research is Foundational Research. This includes techniques such as field visits, observational work and contextual inquiry which involves asking questions to find out why certain things are done in certain contexts and not in others.
Secondary research is also adopted quite often where previous research and literature published is used as the basis for further research.
After reaching a certain stage, researchers might want to collect data from a broader spectrum of the population. In this case, it is strongly recommended that some sort of qualitative research be undertaken before stepping into conducting surveys for a wider audience. Along with gaining a more detailed understanding of the subject, it would also aid in framing more appropriate questions for the survey and ensuring that no significant aspect has been omitted from the survey.
Focus groups should never be used as the sole technique of research, but rather as a stepping stone to boost your own knowledge of the situation before exploring the topic in depth.
Qualitative Vs Quantitative Research
Qualitative and quantitative techniques of research are both equally important and actually quite complementary to each other. While quantitative data strives to be as vast and representative as possible and explains the what’s in any situation, qualitative data strives to understand the pain points that may arise and strives to answer the why’s in the given situations.
Qualitative research is essential for certain exercises such as persona creation which gives a prototype of the archetypal users and serves as an anchor for any decisions related to behaviour of end-users.
It is a commonly accepted fact that the optimum number of users for a usability study falls between five to eight. Since usability testing employs a laser focused approach, you often tend to start seeing the same pain points crop up with each user. Therefore, it is believed that you have seen the majority of the problems after testing five to eight users. After this point, testing users is only going to yield diminishing returns. If you do not want a heuristic and would rather go for a precise number here is a sample size calculator for research studies.
Most researchers also conduct a pilot study, which is a pre-study before the actual study to ensure that the techniques and tools used during the study will be appropriate and yield the desired results.
In most companies, the hiring of user researchers is done more as an afterthought. The prevailing attitude seems to one of, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there”. It is only after the designer has been hired, and she expresses her inability to create a good design without being backed by sufficient research, that most companies finally consider the possibility of hiring user researchers. In the long run, it is more time and cost effective to have user researchers on board from the initial stages itself.
However, one very crucial aspect that should not be missed is keeping the cultural, environmental and technological constraints of the different places in mind while conducting usability testing. What works in San Francisco need not work in India, and what works in India need not work in Egypt, Argentina or any other place!
We hope this article gave you a better understanding of usability testing. Let this be your go-to method when trying to gain a deeper understanding of certain problems, situations and its consequences. However, if your aim is to only find out the preferences of a certain group of people, you will be better off using another method of research.