How does Usability Testing work?

Throughout the design process, several techniques can be employed that will help you to increase the odds of your product being usable. You run research to understand the use cases and the problems you’re solving. Personas and empathy maps help get a good grasp of who your target audience really is. You might even mirror certain competitor activities and run heuristic evaluations to check for basic usability errors.

Usability testing examples

However, until you test, you can’t really tell for sure whether you have designed something that’s actually usable. There’s nothing more painful than watching someone try your product then say loud and clear “Hm, what do I do now? This is confusing”.

It’s painful, but insightful.

Usability testing tells you where the issues lie then points you in the right direction. In this article, we offer some guidance on how to write testing scenarios and give some usability testing examples.

Testing early – with paper prototypes, even – can help save budget and will increase the odds of your being successful, and it’s incredibly simple to do. Usability Testing is simply asking a user to try to accomplish something with your product. This might be while they are in somewhere as informal as a coffee shop or through a detailed study conducted in a lab. It can even be done remotely. Usability testing tools like Usertesting.com allow you to watch someone across the world using your website to accomplish tasks that your write.

How to Create Task Scenarios

Let’s assume you own a boat rides company in Amsterdam and you decide to build a simple landing page where people can go to book a boat ride.

There is one clear metric to success: How many people book rides, which in turn generate revenue to your business. Therefore, booking rides should be extremely easy to do and how to actually do it should be obvious, even.

It doesn’t matter if people “understand what the website is about” but can’t actually book. Or if they recognize your brand, or if they find information about the location and timetable. In the end all that matters is if they can book or not.

If you were to run a quick usability testing by perhaps asking a stranger at a coffee shop to try out the website and you offer to pay their coffee in return, you would have to understand the main task – booking a ride. With this in mind, come up with a task scenario to test it:

“You and your sister will be visiting Amsterdam for the first time next week. Use forexampleboats.com to book a 2-person boat ride for Tuesday”

When writing task scenarios, you should follow a few general guidelines:

  • The tasks should be realistic because if a user can identify with the situation, they are more likely to be engaged. If your subject is a father of two girls for example, avoid asking him to buy gifts for his two boys. The more relatable a task is, the better.
  • Avoid providing clues. You can’t really test whether your product works well or not if you are helping the user. In the example used above, you wouldn’t want to say “…Use the blue button in forexampleboats.com to book a 2-person boat ride for Tuesday”.
  • Be specific. The subject shouldn’t be asking you, the moderator, for clarification of what you want them to do. You noticed the example was specifically saying “book a 2-person boat ride for Tuesday” instead of just “book a ride”. Also, make sure you have the correct outcome for a task (“Open forexampleboats.com” doesn’t have a right or wrong end goal, which means you can’t measure whether they was successful or not). Also, make clear that you are not asking for their opinion (“What do you think of feature X?” doesn’t give you feedback as to whether the feature is usable or not – instead, ask your subject to try out feature X).

(On a quick note, assuming you have more resources and time, it’s okay to test for things like: Can the user understand what the website is about? Can they find the contact information easily? Is pricing information easy to find? In this example I intentionally chose to focus on the core objective, and even with more resources, you should still have the main goal – bookings – in mind.)

Some Examples of Usability Testing

Hopefully by now you know what Usability Testing is and why it matters. You also learned what task scenarios are and how to write them. Next, we’ll take a look at a number of popular websites and apps and write down a useful list of example task scenarios for each one of them.

If we were to run actual usability testing studies on each one of these products, a lot more work would be involved than just writing a few task scenarios. The goal here is to give you some real world examples to make it easier to understand what usability testing questions look like, not what an entire usability study looks like. We have intentionally only picked a few task scenarios so won’t be covering the entire set of tasks applicable to each product.

We will take a look at KAYAK, AirBnB, Uber and DoorDash.

Usability Testing Example 01 – Flight Booking with KAYAK

Kayak.com (Or, KAYAK) is a robust travel website. Available in 18+ languages, it allows visitors to book hotels, flights, train rides, rent cars, buy travel packages, book cruises, track flights and more. It’s wildly popular among travellers and was named on the Best Apps for Business; Travellers by Travel + Leisure. TIME named it one of the 50 Best Websites of 2009.

Example Task Scenarios:

  • Booking a Flight
    You work in San Francisco but an industry event will take place in Amsterdam next week – from June 20 to 25. Use Kayak.com to book a business class round-trip flight for that event.
  • Booking a Hotel
    You’ll be in Tokyo next week – from June 20 to 25 – for a conference. Use Kayak.com to book a 4-star hotel for your stay.
  • Renting a Car
    Next week you’ll be visiting a friend in New York. Use kayak.com to book the cheapest car available for the length of your stay in the city.
  • Buying a Travel Package
    You and your girlfriend are planning to travel to Italy the next summer. Use kayak.com to book a two-weeks travel package.
  • Booking a Cruise
    Your parent’s 30th wedding anniversary is coming up this summer and you want to surprise them with your gift. Use kayak.com to book them a week-long caribbean cruise.
  • Tracking a Flight
    Your daughter is flying to Washington for a school trip (her flight number is DA293), but the flight was delayed. Use kayak.com to check if she is already on her way.
  • Finding Things to do in a City
    You’ll be in Tokyo next week for that conference but it’s your first time visiting the city and you don’t know anyone there. Use kayak.com to find 5 different things to do in the city.
  • Managing a Past Reservation / Booking
    You stayed in a hotel in Amsterdam last week for a conference, but forgot to get a receipt and send it to your company. Go to kayak.com and retrieve the receipt for that reservation.
  • Contacting Customer Support
    You booked a trip to Amsterdam for next week, but you received an email from the airline saying there was something wrong with your reservation. You are a bit confused and want to clarify the situation with the website where you booked the trip. Go to kayak.com and find their customer support phone number.

Usability Testing Example 02 – Accommodation Booking with Airbnb

Airbnb, founded in 2008, is now well known around the world. The online marketplace allows people to rent their homes (or private and shared rooms) to travellers, who can book them. It has recently expanded to also offer bookable “Experiences” – for example, a coffee shop tour in a city with a local who knows the best spots. In addition, it offers guides to major cities and lists events available in some of them.

Example Task Scenarios:

  • Booking a Private Room
    You’ll be in São Paulo next week – from June 25 to 29 – for a conference. Use Airbnb.com to book a private room for your stay.
  • Booking an Experience
    You’ll be in São Paulo next week – from June 25 to 29 – for a conference. Since it’s your first time in the city and you’ll have some free time on the 27th, go to airbnb.com and book a tour that interests you.
  • Retrieving the Address for a Reservation
    You’ll be staying in an Airbnb Apartment in New York tomorrow. Since you want to plan ahead how you’ll get there from the airport, go to airbnb.com and retrieve the address for the upcoming reservation.
  • See upcoming events for a city
    You’ll be in São Paulo next week – from June 25 to 29 – for a conference. Since it’s your first time in the city and you’ll have some free time on the 27th, go to airbnb.com and find an event that interests you.
  • Request a refund
    You had booked a private room for Washington for next week, but the event you were going to attend was cancelled. Go to airbnb.com to cancel the reservation and request a refund.
  • Messaging a Host
    You’ll be staying at an Airbnb in New York tomorrow. It’s your first time in the city and you’re not sure how to get from the airport to the apartment using public transportation. Go to Airbnb.com and ask the host for orientations.
  • Listing a Property
    You live in New York and have a spare room in your apartment that you don’t use much. Since you want to start making extra money, go to Airbnb.com and list the room for the average price in your city.
  • Contacting Customer Support
    You just arrived at your Airbnb accommodation, but the apartment doesn’t look like the listing and you can’t reach the host. Go to airbnb.com and find the number to call customer support and resolve the situation.

Usability Testing Example 03 – Getting Transportation with Uber

Uber most likely doesn’t need an introduction: It’s the highest valued tech startup in the world right now. Available in over 400 cities around the world, it connects passengers with drivers for hire. Anyone (who passes a background check) can start driving in the platform, and anyone can call an Uber car by using one of its mobile apps. It recently also started doing food delivery in some areas – UberEATS – but we won’t be focusing on that for the examples below.

Example Task Scenarios:

  • Getting a Ride Somewhere
    You have to attend an event in downtown New York that starts in less than two hours. Open up the Uber app in your phone and get the cheapest ride available there.
  • Reviewing a Ride
    You just had a bad experience; the driver refused to drop you off at the requested location. Open up the Uber app in your phone and review that ride.
  • Adding a Payment Method
    You recently changed credit cards. Open up the Uber app in your phone and add your new card.
  • Contacting Customer Support
    You were incorrectly charged an extra $20 for a ride, yesterday at 3:20pm. Open up the Uber app in your phone and contact customer support to solve the issue.
  • Signup as a Driver
    You were just laid off and you need to make some money until you find a new job. A friend recommended you try driving with Uber. Open up the Uber app in your phone and signup as a driver.
  • Add Family Members to a Family Account
    You want to allow your teenage daughter to get an Uber when she needs to. Open up the Uber app in your phone and add her to your family account.

Usability Testing Example 04 – Ordering Food with DoorDash

DoorDash is a food delivery service. Launched in 2013 by two Stanford students, it has raised over $180M to date. Available for mobile and web, DoorDash enables you to order from over 40,000 restaurants in 300+ US and Canadian cities.

Example Task Scenarios:

  • Placing an Order
    You live in San Francisco and had a really busy morning. Since you’re not in the mood for cooking your our food, use the DoorDash app in your phone to order.
  • Re-ordering a past order
    You ordered a really delicious sushi from the Okinawa restaurant for lunch yesterday. Open the DoorDash app in your phone and order it again.
  • Changing your address
    You recently moved to a new address: 32 Shelby Road – SoMa, San Francisco CA. Open the DoorDash app in your phone and update your address.
  • Adding a new payment method
    You recently changed credit cards. Open up the DoorDash app in your phone and and add your new card.
  • Viewing the status of an order
    You ordered sushi from the Okinawa restaurant. You’re really hungry, so open the DoorDash app in your phone and check how long until the order arrives.
  • Contacting Customer Support
    You ordered (and paid for) 32 pieces of sushi, but only 16 pieces arrived and you only noticed after accepting the order. Open the DoorDash app in your phone and contact customer support to resolve the situation.

Finally

Now it’s your turn! What are the major tasks that users are trying to accomplish in your product, and how are you going to write the scenarios for testing? Take some time to think about it. And if you are planning to run a remote testing session, take a look at our list of Top Remote Usability Testing Tools.