Keeping an eye on the bigger picture is important when doing just about anything. This adage holds true when testing software, too. There’s no doubt that the QA testing process for software is essential. It makes sure everything is running smoothly and as it should. But generally speaking, it doesn’t always fully take into account the user perspective. Even though developers, designers and testers all try to keep the end user in mind when building and testing, there is no true way to anticipate and test for the variability of actual user experience in the wild.
This is why it is essential to consult actual users. That’s where the process of usability testing comes in. Every organization should consider implementing the practice before a software product launch.
Usability Testing Defined
Unlike functional testing, usability testing hones in on the user’s experience of a product. It focuses on how an application works in the real world with real users. In-house, it’s easy to test a feature and check a box to say it works. But that’s not necessarily the way an application will be used by every user in every situation.
Usability testing involves having participants complete a few tasks with an application. Then, depending on how easy or difficult those tasks were, testers and developers can decide which, if any, improvements and changes need to be made. Usability testing helps organizations accomplish three key goals:
- Uncover opportunities to improve
- Identify issues in design
- Learn about intended user behaviors
Differences Between Testing Types
Software usability testing is sometimes confused with other similar approaches to quality assurance and control. Let’s look at and clarify similarities and differences between these methods.
- User research versus usability testing: User research comes earlier in the software development life cycle and actually involves usability testing, but it also includes other components like interviews, surveys and focus groups to identify the behaviors of users.
- User testing versus usability testing: User testing is put into place to validate a product idea. It’s used to understand how a user approaches a given situation and how a product might help address that situation. Usability comes later in the process of testing that specific product.
- User acceptance testing versus usability testing: User acceptance testing confirms that a product works as intended; it’s about functionality. But usability testing will get into the specifics of user opinions, expectations and actual experience.