A recent study showed that cell phone users in the U.S. spend 86% of their time on their phones using only apps. Another study actually calculated this number to be as high as 89%. Going a step further, it was also found that mobile users spend 80% of their mobile app usage time using only 5 apps (out of the 24 apps they typically use in a month).
That said, mobile apps are still limited by the relatively small screen size and limited performance capabilities of the devices they run on. Research shows that usability is key to the success of mobile apps. In fact, a common trend among successful mobile apps is that users find them easy to learn, user-friendly, and less time-consuming to complete tasks.
What if you work hard to create a new app, website, product or feature, only to find out that your users don't like it? Usability testing is the key to discovering how real users experience your product before you bring it to market.
What is mobile app usability testing?
Usability testing is having real people interact with your app so that you can observe their interactions, behaviors, and reactions to the app and make changes accordingly. Whether you start small by looking at a simple session recording or bring multiple groups of people into a lab equipped with eye-tracking devices, usability testing is absolutely essential to ensure that you build a rewarding and enjoyable experience for your users.
This step in the development process is especially important because it helps validate the decisions you have already made about your mobile app (such as interface design, navigation, and functionality) and informs future decisions, such as prioritizing new features or bug fixes.
How the usability testing affect user engagement
When you have a team working to create a product from start to finish, they gain insight into what the product is used for and how it works.
In other words, through no fault of their own, your team has the blinders on.
On the other hand, your users have no prior knowledge of things like the value proposition and purpose of your product or how to use its various features.
The feedback collected during usability testing is used to create a prioritized list of recommended changes to improve your users' experience with your product. It can help you identify such things as:
- Whether people can easily complete tasks (such as finding and performing specific functions)
- How long it takes to complete certain tasks
- Bugs or performance issues not found by your internal testing
- Points of confusion about interface functionality
- The effectiveness of call-to-action phrases
By helping you analyze how people use your product, usability testing ensures that you release products, new features, or updates that real users in your target market can easily navigate and find value in.
Mobile app usability testing methods
Usability testing is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution to product testing. There are multiple testing methods, and you will want to apply the one that is most useful for your situation.
Lab Usability Testing
- Lab usability testing is a method used to assess how easy it is for users to use the app to complete a set of tasks while being evaluated. In this usability approach, the tasks that users attempt to complete are tightly controlled, and the environment in which the tasks are performed is tightly managed to reduce natural bias. Once the task is completed, the user is asked to provide feedback about their experience.
The greatest benefit of laboratory usability testing is the amount of control it provides. With this testing method, all tests are run under the same standardized conditions, which makes it particularly useful for comparative testing. That said, these tests are typically more expensive and are often based on a small population in a controlled environment, which doesn't necessarily reflect your actual customer base or real-life use cases.Guerrilla testing
- Using a more guerrilla approach to testing, test participants are usually randomly selected from public places (such as malls, airports, or coffee shops) and asked to perform a quick usability test in exchange for something like a gift card or coupon.
Guerrilla testing is particularly useful because it allows you to test the usability of your app with a completely random group of people while also building awareness and interest in your app. This process can bring a lot of attention to your app because it gives you the opportunity to interact with real users and gather their feedback in a more informal setting. That said, if you are looking for extensive testing or follow-up, this is not the ideal method of testing as participants are often reluctant to stay or provide you with personal information.
Phone and video interviews
- With phone usability testing, participants are instructed to complete tasks via recorded video calls and record their interactions and behaviors remotely.
For some people, this method is a more economical way to test users over a larger geographic area. They are also cheaper than face-to-face interviews and allow someone to collect more data in a shorter period of time.Card sorting
- Card sorting mobile app usability testing is an iterative and qualitative research technique that helps determine the most effective and intuitive way to organize the navigational structure of an app. In card sorting, facilitators ask users to sort virtual cards representing different items or categories in the app navigation into categories that are meaningful to them.
The rationale behind card sorting is that the groups people create by sorting cards often match the developer's original intent. Card sorting mobile app usability testing also helps to identify missing or unnecessary features and helps to design a navigation system that is both intuitive and easy to use.
Unmoderated, remote testing
- Session Recording Mobile app testing is a usability testing method in which a mobile device with video and audio recording capabilities is used to record a user's session. This approach is beneficial because it helps researchers and product designers observe user interactions with mobile apps and identify usability problems when they arise.
Unmoderated, in-person testing
- Observation mobile app usability testing is the process of observing users interacting with an app to assess the ease of use of your app and to identify usability issues. Observations can be conducted in a lab environment, using a mobile device connected to a computer running a screen recorder, or on-site at the user's office.
The benefit of observational mobile app usability testing is that it allows you to find problems that you may not expect or that can be easily reproduced using other usability testing methods. It also allows usability testing in the context of a real environment, which makes it very useful for testing the functionality of the app and its interface.
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to choosing only one of these methods, and in many cases you may benefit from conducting separate usability tests for each.
How to conduct mobile app usability testing
To perform effective usability testing, you will need to appoint a coordinator and designate a number of observers. Then, you will assemble your user groups and run them through your test tasks. Finally, you will analyze the data collected and recommend product improvements based on your findings.
Let's take a closer look at the steps.- Prepare test scenarios.
These must be vague - you don't want to steer testers in a specific direction or give them instructions.
For example, the task of testing the design of an e-commerce app would look like this
- Searching for a product
- Sign in
- Completing a payment
- Complete checkout
Tip: Avoid interfering with as many tasks as possible - it makes drawing conclusions more difficult. Instead, prioritize tasks according to their importance relative to the initial goal. Assign no more than five tasks per participant.
The key is to keep the tasks as simple and short as possible.
However, you can and should provide some background information for these tasks and make them feel natural. For example, "You want to buy an anniversary gift for your partner. Browse 3 cups of coffee siphon."
- Set realistic goals for each task.
For example, users should be able to complete the checkout in less than a minute.
Mobile app usability testing questions: Which questions can get the best feedback?
A rule of thumb for usability testing, especially in personally moderated changes, is always to learn as much as possible about the experience of the testers.
This is best done through follow-up questions. Motivate and encourage testers to reveal their motivation to perform the steps their way. When prompts appear, users are more likely to give detailed explanations.
Questions like the following should help clarify what the user is doing and why.
- Which of these two methods/options do you think is best? Why? - This is useful if you are trying to determine the more attractive of the multiple options.
- Do you notice any other ways to ____? - You are trying to determine why users do one thing and not another.
- I noticed that you did this with ____. Can you tell me why? - Follow up on any interesting behaviors you observe during testing to better understand the thought processes behind user behavior.
How do you analyze and interpret the results?
After the first round of testing, you should have a lot of valuable data to analyze and draw conclusions for the next interaction of your design.
Before you dive headfirst into the analysis frenzy, take a step back and review the goals you set when preparing for usability testing.
What key areas do you want to test? This step is critical because you will be using these key areas to categorize insights.
In other words, look at the data and make note of the issues that are most cited by testers. But remember, focus on only the biggest issues right now.
What to look for in the data:
- Problems testers encounter in completing tasks
- Steps taken by users to complete the task
- Responses to follow-up questions
Once you have prepared a summary of the results, sit down with the design team (preferably the development team) as both should work together to agree on viable design recommendations and brainstorm on possible solutions.
Remember to prioritize the issues based on your key areas. The goal now is to tweak the design to improve the user experience.
Design, test, implement, and iterate
Regular usability testing will help you develop your design based on the needs and intrinsic motivations of your audience. Iteration-based design is the key to building great digital products that engage users and increase customer retention.
A tip on usability testing methods:
- If you are just starting out and have limited resources to start a full-fledged in-person hosted testing session, try some of the online usability testing tools listed in this article.
- Or you can conduct guerrilla testing-just ask people randomly on the street or in a coffee shop what they think of your design. While it won't yield as much insight as regular usability testing, it's still better than giving up on testing altogether.
At first glance, testing may seem difficult, but when you set specific goals, choose the best usability testing methods, create realistic scenarios, and aggregate the results, it's effortless.