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A Guide to Usability Testing

Laura Martin
Reading Time:
3 minutes

We have recently covered Heuristic Review v Usability Testing and A Guide to Heuristic Reviews. For the final related blog post, we’ll cover what exactly Usability Testing is and why it is so important to do.

Most people don’t think too much about what makes up a website; they just want an intuitive site that works.

Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice It.” – Jared Spool

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is simply taking a target audience to evaluate a product whilst performing specific tasks. This can be then used to identify opportunities for improvement.

The process of watching and listening to real people carry out these tasks provides a great insight into what works and what don’t.

We can use different methods to understand how users behave, but not why; usability testing can start to help understand the whys.

What are the different types?

There are a number of different methods for performing usability testing, typically the most common methods are:

Guerrilla User Testing is a low cost method of user testing. The term ‘guerrilla’ refers to its ‘out in the wild’ style. This method of user testing can be conducted anywhere e.g. cafe, library, train station etc. essentially anywhere where there is significant footfall.

Lab-based User Testing is a ‘qualitative’ research method; used to gauge how easy and intuitive a product is to use and to determine what your users actually do, rather than what they say they do.

As part of this method there are many in-depth tools, which can be used to collect information about the participants. Heat map tracking and eye tracking are two of the most commonly used. These will provide information of where the users eyes are focusing and where a user has clicked.

Focus Groups involve unstructured interviews or group discussions. Interviews and group discussions are both facilitated by a trained moderator using a specially designed topic guide in order to ensure the discussion is focused and keeps on topic.

When should testing take place?

Test designs as early as possible, even in the wireframing stage. Testing early in the design process will ensure ideas/concepts are logical and easy to understand. Receiving feedback in this early stage allows for changes to be made quickly - there is also the opportunity to test a variety of ideas in a short period of time.

Testing early in the design process will help avoid pitfalls further down the line. This is one of the most valuable parts of usability testing; determining and resolving issues early in the design process is quicker and cheaper than redesigning work that has already been built.

That said, always test! No website is perfect, every website should be evolving.


Usability testing can be performed in a variety of ways during a project lifecycle. Despite not being able to mimic a real life situation, usability testing is still the best way to identify any usability issues - testing as early as possible will have the greatest impact.

Want to know more?

We’ve helped a wide range of clients optimise and improve the user experience across complex and challenging products. If you want to know more, we’re always happy to talk about how we could help. Feel free to contact our UX Team or stop by the Dock9 office for a coffee.

Laura Martin
Laura Martin is Event Manager at Dock9, having previously worked in the financial sector for 15 years including at the Bank of England, Northern Trust and BNP Paribas