Usability Study Best Practices

Usability study is conducted to learn more about our product from the users’ perspective. It is important to get a diverse backgrounds and abilities for the optimal users’ experience. Before conducting usablity study, there are five best practices to keep in mind: Get comfortable, Put people first, Don’t skip the paperwork, Communicate clearly, and Ask the right questions.

Get comfortable

When we are comfortable with the person, we tend to open up more and therefore providing more input. This is why it is important to start with getting-to-know-you small talk can make it easier for participants to feel comfortable and open up, both in person and virtually. Keep in mind that you still want to establish a professional-but-friendly rapport with participants right from the start. You might start off with these questions:

  • How is your day going?
  • Did you have an easy time getting here(or signing on)?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Remember to tailor the ice-breaker questions to the types of participants in your study. It is also helpful to remind participants that they should be open and honest about their experience about the product. It is about making the product better, so any constructive criticism is more than welcome.

Then, thank participants for coming. Communicate how grateful you are that the participant is taking the time to participate in the study.

Finally, make sure the space you’re conducting the study in is physically comfortable. Usability studies can take place in a usability lab, inside someone’s home, in a public area, or online. Each one requires a different setup to ensure participants are feeling at ease and properly accommodated with a clear of distractions.

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Put people first

Throughout a usability study, you want to use participants’ pronouns and identifeirs (like he, she, or they), pronouce their names correctly, use the correct courtesy titles (like Mr., Ms., Mrs., Captain, or Dr.) and ask whether they have any other communication preferences.

When engaging with participants who use an interpreter, always address your comments and questions directly to the particpant, instead of to the interpreter. Looking at the participant and speaking directly to them is the best way to make sure you understand how the participant is experiencing your product.

When engaging with participants of different backgrounds and abilities, use people-first language. For example, you should say “person with a diability” instead of “disabled person”.

Keep in mind: Marginalized communities are often not included in research studies, which means designs often don’t address their specific needs. Marginalized communities are ones where people have specific characteristics and life experiences that prevent them from fitting into what society inaccurately defines as “normal”. The definition of which people fit into a marginalized community changes depending on the context. For example, design kitchen gadget, you might want to consider left-handed users in the design process. They have a unique perspective and pain point that might generate new insights.

Don’t skip the paperwork

Once you get comfortable and getting to know them, you need to take care of some paperwork. Ask participants to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), which informs participants that they can’t talk about your product or the usability study publicly. This document will be kept as your record that protects confidentially and your intellectual property. If your study participants are minors, their parents must consent to the child’s involvement in the study.

Participants also need to sign paperwork to allow their session to be recorded. You might record a usability study session through a paper note sheet, screen recorder, video recorded, or audio recorder. You need to let the participants know about the recording both verbally and written for their consent.

Communicate clearly

After all the logistics taken care of, you’re ready to begin the study. Explain the focus of the study and what participants will give feedback on. Give the participant a roadmap or preview of what’s to come during the session. Be sure to ask the participant if the study you’ve explained will be okay with them before proceeding.

Introducing the think-aloud method, which is a type of data gathering that has participants turn their internal thoughts into shared ideas through spoken, signed, or typed words. It gives you the opportunity to record exactly what participants are thinking about a product in addition to what they do during the study.

Remind participants that they are not being tested. The goal is to understand how the user is experiencing your product, so there’s no right or wrong answer! if the participant can’t complete a task, that isn’t a reflection of their personal abilities; it’s a reflection of the design’s uability.

If not unsure about the participant’s feedback, summarize their ideas for confirmation. Repeat back what you think the participant means, and encourage them to correct or confirm the statement.

Ask the right questions

When it comes to usability studies, the question you ask and how you ask them directly impact on the finding. The way participant explain or clarify on their action gives a better understanding of how the design is perceived by them. Below are the pro tips to ask the right questions during a usability study:

  • Use the same set of questions with each participant. Usability usuablly conduct with one person at a time. You want to keep the questions constistent, so you can compare how participants feel about the product during the synethize stage.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions make participants to elaborate more on their points, which provide a rich insight for the design.
  • Encourage elaboration. This is when follow-up questions are useful because it make participants to provide more information about their interaction with the product. If you’re not sure about the questions to ask, just ask “tell me more about that”.
  • Ask the same question from different angles. For example, you might ask “How often do you go shopping?” at the start and then twist the question with something like this “How many times do you go shopping per week?”. The second round usually gain a better insight.
  • Don’t mention about other participants. First, it violates privacy law and second it skews the answers of the participant you are with.
  • Don’t ask leading questions. Leading questions normally to lead bias answers. For example, “why do you think apple is more popular than orange?”. Participant is likely to be positive on apple and negative on orange. Instead, ask neutral question like “Do you prefer apple or orange and why?”.

Keeping these practices in mind and you will be on your way to conduct the moderated session study.

Good luck.

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