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User Testing vs. Usability Testing: What's The Difference?

There’s often confusion between user testing and usability testing in software application and development, so we’re breaking down the difference in a way that’s easy to understand.

It can be easy to get stuck on your own perspective when designing a product. You know you have a great idea, you know it should perform a specific function for users, and you know how it will achieve the desired result. 

Having a vision for your product is great, but at the end of the day, a good product is about what it can do for the end-user. Something that works well for you and your colleagues might not be ideal for the average user. This is where user testing and usability testing come in to help designers gain insight from the perspective of the average user.

You might find that many people use the terms user testing and usability testing interchangeably, but there are key differences. They both focus on the end-user, but they have different goals. In this article, you’ll learn what user testing and usability testing are, and how to utilize them when developing a product. 

What is user testing?

With user testing, you’re trying to find out what users think of your product or idea. It can start in the early stages of design before you even have a working prototype, or it can be performed late in the process when you’re refining the final product before release. Ideally, you want to work on user testing throughout the different stages of design. 

This type of testing is all about getting feedback from people who could be real users. You want to know what they think about a product or a feature you might be adding to a product. User testing questions will cover things like have they ever had the problem you’re trying to solve or if they could use a product like the one you’re designing, would they. 

Depending on the design stage and your goals, there are different user testing methods you might use. Surveys and focus groups can be great for gathering user opinions in the early stages of design. Split testing can be ideal for comparing the results of two different design options. Beta testing can also be useful for seeing what users think of an early version of the product. 

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is less about opinion and more about function. With this, designers try to see if users can complete tasks or reach goals while using the product. For usability testing, you would want to provide users with a prototype or some type of mockup that allows them to work through different processes.

Usability testing can be both moderated and unmoderated. With moderated testing, you have a team member with the users to guide them through some of the tasks and ask questions about the experience. With unmoderated testing, you just give the product to users and maybe provide them with some questions or tasks you want them to complete without guidance.

Since the goal is to test how well people can use a product or feature, usability questions will be different. You might ask the user to describe their overall experience. You might ask them if they faced any issues completing tasks or if anything could make the product more useful or easier to use. 

Exit surveys can be useful methods for usability testing, but you can collect more data on the experience of users. Session recording can show you exactly what the users were doing as they tried to complete different tasks. You could also use heat map analysis to gather data about the ways users interact with the product. Split testing might also be useful to see how well different users perform when they try to complete tasks with slightly different versions of the same product.

They might be different, but user testing and usability testing have a shared goal: to help designers create the best product possible for the end-user. One is more about what users want and like, and the other is more about function. When they come together, they can help your team develop products that perform better while also being something real people want to use.

Get in touch to see how and where Big Human can provide design, product, and strategy expertise. 

September 09, 2021development, user testing, usability testing