10 reasons to do moderated usability testing

Posted by Sophie Knight on Dec 16, 2022 10:46:16 AM
Sophie Knight

Usability testing, in simple terms, is the process of testing how easy or difficult a website is to use with a representative group of users. It comes in two main forms: 

  • Unmoderated: where users look at a website or app and respond to a series of pre-defined questions or are given a task and then told to ‘think out loud’ whilst using a site with the session recorded for subsequent analysis 

  • Moderated: where users explore a website or app alongside a UX researcher, completing a series of realistic tasks while being asked their opinions on the experience in real time, either in a research lab or remotely

I know we’re biased (given its what we do!) but we genuinely believe that moderated usability testing is the best way to find out if your site is effective – whether it will work with real users and help you achieve your online goals.  

Here are 10 reasons why you should consider moderated usability testing for your digital service. 

1. Gain input from real target users and better understand their goals

Usability testing gives you a chance to hear from ‘real’ users – that is a representative group of people to whom your website is relevant who would consider or have used your product or service in real life. ‘Real’ users are different to the people who work on the site: they don’t understand the background of the site; they don’t know how it is structured; they don’t know what content and functionality has been included. As such, they can behave in completely unexpected ways. Often, we want a tester to explore a site in line with their own interests. Moderated usability testing allows the moderator to draw out the tester’s goals so they can frame relevant tasks.

2. Only a small number of testers are needed

Our experience of undertaking testing on hundreds of websites shows that typically a relatively small proportion of usability problems account for the bulk of the bad user experience on a site: these problems can be identified with a small number of testers. Usability testing can be a cost-effective option – it is rarely particularly valuable or cost effective to test with more than 12 users, even on sites with several different audiences, in order to identify usability issues to be fixed.  

3. Testing can be conducted remotely

Moderated usability testing can be easily conducted remotely using desktop sharing software. This is invaluable if you are looking to hear from a more diverse range of users and to access a harder to reach audience. It also means you can watch what users are actually doing on your site, rather than relying on what they say they are doing. 

4. Observe in real time so you can see how your users behave

Moderated usability testing is a form of qualitative research that focuses on behaviours not attitudes. This is important because what people say they do is often different to what they actually do. By observing research in real time, you can see these behaviours as they happen which enables greater insight into the user issues. It is impossible to deny there is a problem when you are watching it happen in front of you. 

5. Get insight into fast and slow thinking

Navigation, content presentation and many design issues are driven by fast thinking processes (i.e. thinking that is intuitive, automatic, experience-based, and relatively unconscious). Insights into fast thinking behaviours are best gained by watching what users do, not by asking them about it. Asking users about these issues, accesses their slow thinking (i.e. conscious, considered and requiring cognitive effort), what they tell us they are doing often contradicts what we observe them doing. Usability testing provides insights into both types of thinking by observing behaviours and asking attitudinal questions within the same testing session.  

6. Challenge existing mental models

Everyone walks around with a fixed mental model of what reality is. In fact, their reality is just their perception of the world, which is influenced by their experiences, values and beliefs. To make a real difference to this perception, it is crucial that the people who are going to be involved in implementing changes on a website or app get to see and hear real users using an interface. Usability testing forces those with responsibility for the site or app to ‘walk in the users’ shoes. 

7. Challenge subjective decision making

Usability testing also challenges subjective decision making. Instead of sitting around and debating the merits of various solutions within the team, it allows the user to make the decision - their behaviours demonstrating which is the most effective route.  

8. Get feedback on a macro strategic and micro tactical scale

Usability testing will get you feedback on a ‘macro’ strategic scale – that is, do users understand the concept on your website or app? It will also gain feedback on a more ‘micro’ tactical scale which focuses on specific elements of the interface, like do they see that button and can the interact with that menu.  

9. Priortise your workplans

Usability testing will enable prioritisation, surfacing the most important issues to users and identifying where development effort should be concentrated. 

10. Get stakeholders together to ‘confront’ user evidence for a clear picture of ‘success’ for your site

Usability testing helps to pull together people from across your business, helping ensure that their understanding of the user goals are aligned, and that they have a clearer joint picture of what ‘success’ for the site will look like. 

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Topics: Usability Testing

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