Illustration by Sagar Vikmani
Usability testing is one of the most important steps in the UX process. It’s that exciting moment when designers witness users interacting with the product they’ve worked so hard to create. With iterative usability testing, designers are able to gain insight into usability issues affecting their user experience early—before they become further invested in the design.
As we make our way from paper to pixel perfection, iterative usability testing is the best way to check and verify that our product is providing a usable and enjoyable experience for our users. We know a poor user experience leads to poor performance of a product. Companies are investing more and more in having UX designers test their product for usability issues continuously throughout the design process, empowering them to locate and eliminate areas of friction before adding on more features to a product.
This iterative approach allows continuous improvement upon a current design as you unleash new features. In this article, you’ll learn iterative usability testing best practices so you can provide a great user experience and further the success of your company and product.
What is iterative testing?
Iterative testing’s definition is the methodology in which a product is tested on users and changed repeatedly at different stages of design based on testing feedback and results. This type of testing helps eliminate usability issues before a product is launched. It begins on paper prototypes and moves all the way through high fidelity wires. As a UX research method, iterative testing is a powerful addition to your UX toolkit.
A successful UX designer always begins iterative testing with users at the early stages of the design process. It is a cheap and easy way to gather feedback on the usability of your product.
It enables the designer to identify early any issues that they can be improved upon prior to moving onto the next step in their design. Iterative testing helps minimize backtracking to create an efficient, streamlined design process. It allows you to test, validate, and manipulate your design, so when you go to market, you are confident your product provides an exceptional user experience, which is key to the success of your product.
Measuring usability in a product
Now that you understand what an iterative approach to usability testing involves, how do designers evaluate effective usability in a product? To have an informative usability test, you must understand how to measure the usability of a product. The usability of a product is measured by the learnability, efficiency, memorability, error management, and satisfaction a user experiences when they interact with your design. These five quality components help us to better assess the usability of a product:
- Learnability. How easy is it for users to accomplish tasks the first time they encounter the design? Is your product easy to learn how to use upon introduction?
- Efficiency. Once users have learned your design, how quickly can they perform their tasks? Is there room for improvement in the efficiency of their task flows?
- Memorability. Do users remember the interface when they return? Do they have to re-learn how to use the product after a period of not using it? How easily can they reestablish proficiency?
- Errors. How many errors do users make? Are they severe? Does the UI instruct them effectively on how to recover from these errors?
- Satisfaction. How pleasant of an experience is it to use the design? Are there elements of delight and pleasant surprises for the user throughout their journey?
If you focus on these five quality components of usability during testing, you will be able to identify any areas of improvement before moving on with your design.
When to conduct iterative usability tests
Now that you know how to measure usability in testing, how do you know when it’s a good time to conduct a test? In iterative usability testing, you’ll perform tests in increments as you design-out the features of your product. You should include testing features gradually as they are designed throughout the design thinking process, as opposed to waiting and testing them all at the end.
After your initial research enables you to empathize with your user and define the actual problem, you can begin sketching solutions that may solve your user’s pain points. In order to materialize and test these solutions, create prototypes that you can then test on users. These prototypes begin on paper, in a simple hand-drawn sketch highlighting the main layout components in your design.
Paper prototyping is cheap and fast, and users tend to be more honest with their feedback when they believe you did not spend much time on it (the paper format helps them understand it’s just an idea at this stage).
Paper prototypes focus on creating high-level usability for the navigation and layout of a design. The insights you’ll gain from testing paper prototypes allow you to identify and then correct usability issues or make adjustments to the designs before continuing onto medium fidelity.
Medium fidelity wireframes typically are greyscale with minimal color. This is a great moment for another stage of iterative testing to take place. In medium fidelity, body copy will be limited, but H1, H2, and a navigational scheme will be designed-out and ready to test and validate.
Each iteration’s test should include at least five users who can give accurate feedback for that particular iteration. Once you have gained insights from these users, apply any relevant changes to your design and then increase into high fidelity for your next iteration. High-fidelity wireframes introduce color, images, and interaction design. Here you are able to polish off your design prior to its launch.
From paper prototyping to high-fidelity wires, this iterative approach will help you streamline and support the design process. It enables you to confirm the usability of your design decisions, every step of the way, before layering on more features and elements that could exacerbate any problems. An iterative approach gets you one step closer to that perfect user experience.
Considerations for successful iterative usability testing
When conducting a UX design test, there are a few things to keep in mind to help your iterative testing remain a success throughout your project. First, recognize that, like any research methodology, iterative testing has pros and cons.
Pros of iterative testing
- Spots potential usability issues early and allows you to correct them early
- Easily measures progress of your design
- Allows you to defend your design to stakeholders
- Easily tests and evaluates smaller amounts of content
- Easily adapts to the ever-changing needs of the project, as well as the client
Cons of iterative testing
- The need for more intensive project management may be necessary
- More resources are required due to frequency of user testing
- Length of the project may be prolonged based on testing results, making it hard to pinpoint an end date
It is clear that the pros outweigh the cons. Iterative testing is a great way to test and validate your product from idea to implementation. Moreover, here are six tips to ensure your iterative testing is operating at its highest potential.
- Test as early as possible. Begin with paper prototypes before you even open your laptop. This validation will help you jump with confidence into medium fidelity.
- Outline your objectives. Clearly define your criteria for each testing phase.
- Engage the entire team. Allow your whole team to participate in the process to help create a shared understanding and build further empathy with users.
- Don’t limit yourself to in-person testing. Use remote usability testing as an option to test ideas.
- Don’t try to solve everything at once. Solving everything at once is simply impossible. Divide your design up into incremental units to help you tackle challenges one at a time.
- Document everything. It is very easy to lose track of concepts you have already tested. Save each iteration noting the reason behind each major change. This will come in handy after time has passed and you revisit features of your product.
Iterative testing is a very important practice in your design process. Testing your product gradually in iterative steps allows you to identify the usability strengths and weaknesses early on and adjust accordingly—potentially saving you resources in the long run. It helps pave the way for a streamlined, efficient experience, which makes for a successful product.