Exploring 5 Types of Usability Testing

May 23, 2024 | Best Practices, Test Automation Insights


Usability testing gives you valuable insights into how real users interact with your product. You can use the reactions and feedback to refine your product to ensure it’s effective and enhances the user’s enjoyment. We’ll explore different types of usability tests to help you better understand its importance to web and application development. 

📝 The Importance of Usability Testing in User-Centered Design 

Successful applications usually have one thing in common: they make users happy. Even the smallest update to a web interface can significantly impact how someone interacts with your site. 

Usability testing puts the focus on user preferences and needs. Watching users interact with a product helps developers identify and correct problems impacting the user experience, leading to a more user-friendly design. 

Below are other reasons why UX testing is critical to the design process and a successful application launch. 

  1. Helps you find problems early: The best way to get the most out of usability testing is to start early in development. This gives developers more time to resolve usability issues before a product launch, and it also reduces the costs associated with fixing problems after release. 
  2. Makes applications more accessible: Some people require special accommodations to make a site more accessible, like providing alt text for images to help those with visual impairments. Usability testing allows you to work through different scenarios with these users to ensure you’re in tune with their needs and are compliant with applicable legal standards. 
  3. Improves user satisfaction: Products that make things easier for users and give them what they ask for typically get higher satisfaction rates. This leads to positive word of mouth, which can boost the use of your product.  

Well-designed products tend to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Starting with a solid foundation also makes it easier to make enhancements to accommodate changing user needs. 

🆎 The Different Types of Usability Testing 

Let’s look at some usability testing methods often used when evaluating new applications. 

1. Moderated Usability Testing 

This qualitative research method involves participants interacting with a digital product while being observed by a moderator. The moderator, often a usability expert, then guides the testers through various tasks.  

Participants interact directly with the moderator, asking follow-up questions that give insight into their thought processes as they test. Moderators use the feedback acquired to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how users experience the product.  

The biggest advantages of moderated in-person testing are its structure and feedback process. Putting testers in a controlled setting lets moderators customize testing based on real-time user input. For example, if a user has a hard time locating a call-to-action link on a landing page, the moderator can note that the design should be changed to make it more prominent. 

Other advantages of moderated usability testing include: 

  • Ability to gather detailed information about user preferences and behaviors 
  • Flexibility in setting up testing protocols and dealing with user concerns 
  • Validation of product concepts before moving on to a full development phase 

In-Person vs. Remote Moderated Testing 

You can take two approaches to moderated usability testing: in-person and remote. 

In-person testing 

Traditional moderated testing occurs in an environment like a lab or a classroom. Both the moderator and participants must be physically present. The setup may include equipment like one-way mirrors and cameras to allow teams to observe the events without disrupting the testers. 

One advantage of in-person teams is that it allows for more nuanced communication. Moderators can build camaraderie with the UX testers and respond immediately if there’s an issue. 

Remote testing 

Moderators conduct remote tests by connecting to participants via online video conferencing tools. This allows moderators and participants to conduct testing from anywhere, increasing the available pool of real users.

Both the moderator and the testers must have access to a reliable Internet connection. Remote testing can be more cost effective to organize, as there’s no need for participants to travel to a physical location. They also use their own equipment, eliminating set-up costs.  

In the above scenarios, testers may perform specific tests that align to specific metrics that provide numerical data for further evaluation. This type of testing is referred to as quantitative testing.

2. Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unmoderated usability tests are typically performed through platforms designed to guide participants through tasks. The software records and captures all user experiences and responses. This type of user experience test is done remotely. Once complete, all feedback is analyzed to determine what changes might be necessary. 

Unmoderated usability testing doesn’t require coordination with a moderator, making the experience more convenient for participants. With the right software, organizations can support multiple testers as they perform tasks connected to website user testing. 

Companies often use unmoderated usability testing because it’s more cost effective and time efficient. It also provides feedback on how users interact with products in their natural environment, like a home office. 

Tools and Platforms for Unmoderated Testing 

The best way to choose a tool for unmoderated testing is to look for one compatible with your company’s technology stack. Below are some features you should look for in a modern UX testing platform. 

  • Recording screen: Look for UX testing tools with a task-based recording screen. Product developers have complete control over setting up step-by-step sequences for testers to follow.   
  • Prototype evaluation: Some tools let you test software prototypes to validate design concepts and help developers identify areas for improvement. 
  • Heatmaps and scroll maps: These visual analytics tools help product managers determine how users navigate through their products, allowing them to determine the parts of an application needing more refinement. 

3. Remote Usability Testing 

Remote usability testing allows participants in either moderated or unmoderated testing to perform those functions in an environment of their choosing. However, there can be challenges with this type of usability testing. Software glitches, poor Internet connections, and video quality issues may disrupt testers before they complete their work. Because there’s no in-person moderator, a product owner’s ability to remediate the situation may be limited.  

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Methods 

Both synchronous and asynchronous testing offer distinct advantages when performing remote usability testing. 

  • Synchronous: With synchronous testing, the moderator and tester interact simultaneously. Participants can ask questions immediately, while moderators can probe user responses more deeply, allowing them to collect more nuanced insights into user thought processes and behaviors.  
  • Asynchronous: In asynchronous testing, there’s no real-time interaction. Participants conduct testing at their own pace while the platform automatically collects data on user behavior and screen interactions. 

Asynchronous testing works best for product owners who want to identify common usability issues from an extensive testing base. Synchronous testing helps developers understand human motivations better when using an application.  

4. Guerrilla Testing 

Guerrilla usability testing is an agile methodology used to identify issues with software and application prototypes. It’s a less formal way of gathering feedback from users. Product owners recruit individuals from communal spaces like coffee shops and libraries to test their products.  

It’s a cost-effective way of gaining feedback that doesn’t require a lot of setup, a testing environment, or sophisticated tools. Sessions last anywhere from five to 15 minutes, making it more convenient for someone to volunteer as a tester.  

Tools Used for Guerrilla Testing 

While guerrilla testing costs less than other methodologies, product owners need recording and observation tools to collect test results. 

  • Mobile device: Most guerrilla testers use smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices to review prototypes, record feedback, and capture user interactions on video. It’s also helpful to have apps capable of recording a user’s screen interactions.  
  • Camera: You can also record test interactions using a quality camera. These typically provide higher-quality footage than most smartphones.  
  • Note-taking app: Digital applications like Microsoft OneNote are helpful for quickly writing down test observations during sessions.  
  • Audio recorder: You can use an audio recording app or smartphone to record verbal feedback from testers.  

5. A/B Testing 

A/B testing, or split testing, compares two versions of an application, website, or other product simultaneously during a testing session. The goal is to get user feedback regarding which version performs better on metrics like user engagement, conversion rates, and click-through rates.

Below is a breakdown of how A/B testing works: 

  1. Hypothesize: An example hypothesis may be that green works better as a call to action because people associate it with the “go” of a green traffic light.
  2. Identify change variables: Figure out which variable should change between the two prototypes. It could be an image, text, or any other application element. It’s best to change only one variable at a time to understand how each one impacts user behavior.  
  3. Segment audience: Divide your target audience into two statistically similar groups. Expose one group to version A and the other to version B. 
  4. Start testing: Run both tests over the same period. Make sure the tests last long enough to gather significant results.   
  5. Perform data analysis: Collect the test results from each group to determine which version performed better. 
  6. Implement the best result: If there’s a clear winner between the two versions, start implementing permanent changes to the best performer. If there’s not much difference, you may want to discard the results and perform a retest after making further modifications.  

⚙️ Make Testing Smarter, Not Harder 

Ranorex Studio automates the most critical aspects of UX testing. Organizations of all sizes can get everything they need to conduct thorough user testing in one package. Contact us today to request a free trial and experience the power of Ranorex.

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