What is Usability Testing? | Explaining the Definition, Methods, Advantages, and Disadvantages

Usability testing or user testing is a qualitative market research technique in which participants evaluate a website, application, product, or prototype to test its ease and likelihood of use. This process allows organizations to uncover usability issues, collect explanatory feedback from their target audiences, and measure satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the topic of research.

In short, usability research is more about testing a product, website, application, or prototype than testing the user of the concept. There are two methods in which a usability testing research company conducts this type of market research:

• Moderated usability testing
• Unmoderated usability testing

The decision whether an organization should choose moderated or unmoderated user testing is based on the situation and objective for the research. In other words, what works for one brand or product may not work for another.

In this blog post we’ll discuss usability testing, the difference in approaches (moderated and unmoderated), as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using each.

What is the difference between moderated and unmoderated usability testing?

Moderated usability testing allows a qualified research moderator to sit live with a participant as they use a product, device, or website. A popular form of moderated usability testing is website usability.

This allows a moderator to understand how a participant navigates through a website such as common paths, decisions, motivations, and reactions. Our website usability market research company recommends using this during the design phase of a website or app.

Unmoderated usability testing does not involve a moderator while a user tests a product, but instead a participant evaluates the subject of research in a location of their own choosing.

Those who complete testing remotely are typically asked to complete a follow-up survey or follow-up interview in order to collect their opinions, feedback, and recommendations. Unmoderated usability testing is helpful for in-home usage tests of appliances, electronics, etc.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of moderated usability testing?

An advantage of moderated usability testing is the higher quality of feedback collected. With a trained moderator guiding the research, participants can be asked to expand on their answers.

If a participant uses a website on their own and is asked to fill out a follow-up survey, researches are at the liberty of the level of detail in the answers provided. However, if more detail is needed from a user, a moderator can simply ask for more information. Here, organizations are truly able to uncover the why and the how.

There is also room for asking specific questions based on the user’s action in real-time. This allows a moderator to explore different areas of the product and gain in-the-moment feedback as to why a user visited one page and not the other.

For example, only after a user read a couple of blogs on a website did they visit the “contact us” page. The moderator can ask if the content had an influence on whether or not they would do business with this organization or if this was the only place on the website they noticed the “contact us” call to action. This type of action would likely not be remembered by the participant if asked in a follow-up interview or survey taken place several days later.

While the quality of data is extremely high with moderated usability tests, there are more cost implications with this approach. Organizations must factor in the costs associated with recruiting participants, incentives, and renting a research facility.

Also, if not completed with a moderated usability testing research company, and instead conducting this type of research in-house, there will likely me a level of bias from the moderator. This could be in the form of miscues or non-verbal cues leading to false-perceptions in participant results.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of unmoderated usability testing?

As explained earlier, unmoderated usability testing allows a participant to evaluate a website, application, protype and so on in their own natural environments. This form of remote testing offers a more relaxed and comfortable setting for your participants.

Your ideal participants should be those who match your defined screening criteria or target user. Down the road, customers will be using this concept in their natural state, therefore unmoderated usability testing provides a better implication into key satisfactions or dissatisfactions with your product. Participants will most likely use the product more organically and thoroughly when they know they are not being watched or tested.

With unmoderated use testing, a disadvantage is organizations are left to predict where a participant will go on a website or how much they will actually use and test a product. While participants are usually given a list of tasks to complete, with the lack of a moderator, this could lead to a mis-match of tasks, further questions, or confusion by the user.

There is no back and forth conversation readily available as there is with moderated usability tests.

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Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team has the knowledge and tools to design a robust market research study, should it be the right fit for your business.

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