User testing vs usability testing

Ewa Rutczyńska-Jamróz
15 April 2022
9 min read

User testing and usability testing are not the same. Both play an important role in the product development process, but there are many differences between these two concepts.

From this blog post you will learn:

  • What is user testing?

  • What is usability testing?

  • What are the differences between user testing and usability testing?

  • Why think about usability and user experience UX?

User testing vs usability testing: what's the difference?

Let's start by clarifying the difference between user testing and usability testing so as to avoid any confusion.

User testing is about testing a product or service by real users to decide if it is ready to be launched on the market. The user performs specific tasks in real conditions to evaluate the functionality of an app, website, etc.

Usability testing is a method of checking how easy it is to use a product or service. This process also involves real users but is aimed at verifying not the functionality, but the user experience (UX).

These two concepts are used at different stages of the product life cycle. The first one is used at the very early stage to check if there is a market need for your product at all, the second is used later on to verify if the target audience can use it effectively.

More differences between user testing vs usability testing

No 1: Purpose and outcome

User testing helps you decide whether or not your product or service is ready for a market launch. It is about discovering the user's needs and validating the concept.

At this stage, you must understand the market landscape, who your target audience is and how user needs are presently being satisfied.

Once these factors have been established, you can verify and address them by involving real users in the process.

This is where user testing becomes crucial in the product development process, for it is here where you will confirm if there is (or is not) a need for your product on the market. Should you discover that there is not, then you will at least be saving yourself a considerable amount of money by abandoning your idea.

On the other hand, usability tests allow you to validate your product against user experience and improve product functionality so that the customers can not only use it in practice but actually enjoy using it.

As user testing is carried out at the ideation stage, usability testing is applied once an MVP or a prototype is ready to be shared with the user.

No 2: Testing group

At the product idea stage, you won't yet know who your target audience is. Instead, you will examine the market landscape and determine what sort of user might engage your product or service, which means testing on a much wider group.

Once you learn more about your market, you can then make market segmentation and define user personas. Here, usability testing will be carried out in a more narrowly defined group that corresponds to the target audience profile.

No 3: Testing methods

As there are separate goals for user testing and usability testing, different testing methods have to be applied.

User testing methods:

Although your product or service may not be ready yet, it is good practice to provide some materials that will help your audience envision the solution your product will offer.

These materials can come in the form of a mockup, a render, or a demo.

The aim of the user testing is to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How is the problem currently being solved?

  • Is there a better way to solve it?

  • How does the user feel about the solution?

  • Which version of the solution (A or B) does the user prefer?

  • How much is the user willing to pay for the solution?

With these queries in mind, you'll find the most popular methods for user testing are:

  • market research (including competitive analysis)

  • interviews

  • focus groups

  • surveys

  • A/B testing

User testing can be carried out remotely or in person, and it is important that you ensure an appropriately sized testing group. It is also good to avoid focusing on friends' opinions.

If conclusions are to be reliable, the testing group must be representative.

Check how to do user testing in 3 simple steps and how to conduct remote user testing from our previous blog posts.

Usability testing methods:

The ideation stage is already behind you. You now have an MVP or a prototype to share with the testing group that enables you to examine how users interact with your app or other solution.

The following questions will help you maximize results from usability testing:

  • What is your impression of the product?

  • To what degree does the solution satisfy your needs?

  • Did you encounter any problems when using the product?

  • Which functionalities do you like the most/least?

  • Would you recommend this product to your friends?

  • What changes would you introduce to the product?

As you can see, all these questions are aimed at evaluating your product against user experience. The feedback you receive should be used to improve the functionalities so that the customers will find using the product easy and intuitive. This is fundamental to building product competitiveness in the market.

To do this right, you should focus both on the quantitative and qualitative aspects of usability testing. The first one is more important as the aim is to identify potential areas for improvement.

However, the latter aspect should not be neglected. So if you want to make your product more competitive, identify metrics for user experience and confront them with a benchmark in your market niche.

Here are examples of usability metrics for user experience:

  • efficiency

  • task time

  • error rate

  • users' satisfaction

There are numerous usability testing methods, but it's impossible to use them all. So, to choose the most relevant ones, you must focus on your product and the characteristics of its target audience.

Usability testing can be applied by one of the following methods:

  • guerilla usability testing - users are approached in public places and asked to perform a test in exchange for a small gift; as the users are engaged by its surprise element, it covers a limited scope of the test

  • lab usability testing - takes place in a specially designed laboratory; users complete a set of tasks under the supervision of a moderator

  • contextual inquiry - takes place in the users' natural environment (e.g. at work); a researcher observes how users interact with the product and ask them questions to understand what motivates their behaviors

  • phone interview - allows you to gather feedback automatically; the user is being guided via phone to complete a set of tasks in real-time, which is much easier to organize than in-person meetings, thus less time and expense-consuming

  • remote usability testing - enables users to engage from various locations where they complete a set of tasks in a familiar environment. With this method, using dedicated testing tools can be very supportive (e.g. Lookback, Maze, Testbirds).

As with user tests, usability tests can be carried out both in-person and remotely. It is important to get the right people involved (e.g. UX specialists, product designers, etc.).

However, since time zones and global location can often make it difficult or impossible to involve these individuals in the flesh, remote methods are far more common these days.

User testing and usability testing: what are the benefits?

User tests

User testing is a great way to test your idea and discover if there is a market need for it.

It is paramount that you establish whether your concept makes sufficient sense and is, therefore, worth pursuing into the product development process.

In other words, user tests can spare you from disaster. It is better to fail quickly than to gradually haemorrhage your resources.

A crucial factor in user tests is cost reduction, which is mostly encountered during the development stage of the product life cycle.

You may limit resources in relation to time, people, and money, however, there are other factors to consider.

User tests are also a great way to identify hidden opportunities based on feedback from your target market, functionalities, design, marketing channels and so on.

Stay open-minded, listen carefully, and increase your chances for product success.

Usability testing and user experience

The overriding benefit gained through usability testing is the development of an optimum user experience that may flourish into long-term customer success.

Why are usability and user experience so important? Because they are key to keeping customers loyal to your product.

Once the users are satisfied with your product or service, they will have no need to search for alternatives.

Moreover, word-of-mouth will then work its magic, thereby leveraging your product's competitive advantage.

Having the above in mind, usability testing can increase the conversion rate and limit customer service costs which have a positive effect on profitability.

If you carry out usability testing early enough, you will be able to identify potential errors during the development stage. It can save a lot of time and money.

By checking if the product is easy to use, you will then be able to discover potential hidden issues.

User testing vs usability testing: what about the disadvantages?

There is no doubt that user research has a positive effect on the product development process. However, it's good to be aware of its disadvantages too.

First of all, it can be very time-consuming and expensive both in terms of performing the process and analyzing the data. It also requires much effort when creating a research plan, involving the right people on the board, and providing adequate equipment.

Taking into account such limitations, it's often possible to involve a small number of participants only, which means the test will never be a full representation of the scenario.

Furthermore, the success of the process very much depends on the willingness of the users to cooperate.

Nevertheless, it is still worth considering user research as a part of your product journey. It may occur that the scale of expenditures to be incurred is nothing compared to the consequences of a potential failure.

And even if you are not able to test your idea or prototype on a wide scale, so long as you choose an appropriate target, you still have a chance to gain valuable product feedback.

At Startup Development House we turn ideas into real-life products. We carry out both user testing and usability testing.

We believe that validating the concept and the prototype with real users is crucial to designing a successful product journey.

That's why we are present at every stage of user research, including research plan preparation, user recruitment, session direction, user interviews, data analysis and prototype improvement.

Do you have an idea for an application or other digital product? Contact us and let's check what real users think.

 

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