Usability testing 101 — basically everything

Naomi Oyibo
4 min readJul 31, 2022


Usability testing is a qualitative UX research methodology. It is an observational methodology used by UX researchers to uncover problems and opportunities in design. The goal of usability testing is to ;

  • Pinpoint problems in a products design
  • Discover chances to improve the product’s design
  • Learn about behaviors and preferences of target users

Usability testing is of two types ;- moderated and unmoderated usability testing. Usually, deciding on which method is better is a common issue as some might not be soundly acquainted with both terms. While there’s no standard better option of the two, there are different factors that could make either of these two usability testing methods the best option for you depending on your research goals.

Now, let us dig into both approaches, what they are, how they are used, when they should be used and the pros and cons of each .

  1. Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unmoderated usability testing are user tests that the participants completes alone. It is unmonitored , with just the participant present for the test. The participant can complete questions at their own pace under choice conditions. This approach tends to be less time consuming and more flexible.

When to Use Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unmoderated usability testing is useful for when :

  • You require feedback from contributors quickly.
  • A large sample size needs to be obtained and diverse group of contributors are involved.
  • There is a tight budget. Unmoderated testing is less expensive than moderated so when struggling with a budget, this approach is useful.
  • Feedbacks are needed on specific components or updates.
  • You want to observe a participant interacting in their natural environment.

Unmoderated usability testing however cannot be fully utilized during early prototype testing as there could be limitations, participants could actually not know how to use the prototype.

How to Optimize Unmoderated Tests

To get useful data from unmoderated tests, here are some ways you can optimize the tests to enable users give helpful data even without monitoring.

  • Keep it simple. The test questions need to be kept as simple as possible. Include vital information they might need to preform the test and provide details to aid them complete the test independently.
  • Get as many participants as possible. You want to over recruit participants because the ratio of no shows could be quite high with this method. Also, adding more participants could mean increased amount of valuable data.
  • Test Run Before Handing Tests To Participants. Doing dry runs before a study begins would help you note and rectify any issues with tests before participants begin.

Pros Of Unmoderated Usability Testing

  • It can be done remotely. That is at anywhere, anytime and you can still get actionable feedback.
  • Since absence of moderators reduces costs, it is less expensive than moderated testing so works really well for small budgets.
  • You can recruit as many participants since users can complete test sessions regardless of location.
  • Getting multiple responses in a short time is possible since multiple respondents can access test tools at once.
  • Significant data can be collected from diverse demographics since you can access multiple can remotely participate.
  • Unmoderated tests provides flexibility.
  • There’s also the option of reworking user questions without incurring extra costs.

Cons Of Unmoderated Usability Testing

  • You cannot conduct interview based tasks.
  • It is possible for respondents to leave tasks uncompleted or provide answers to questions without much thought.
  • Support and guidance cannot be offered to respondents who may run into technical difficulties while completing the tasks since they are not directly monitored.

2. Moderated Usability Testing

Moderated usability testing involves the presence of a moderator to facilitate the test. The moderator works closely with the participant offering guidance, and clarity when they are faced with challenges while completing the task. Moderated can also be conducted remotely ( with active participation from both moderator and contributor in real time) or in person.

When to Use Moderated Usability Testing

Moderated testing is more suitable for collecting qualitative feedbacks (e.g. why? questions). It is recommended to conduct moderated user testing in the product development stage when the team is working on a concept and wants to explore various solutions.

Pros of Moderated Usability Testing

  • This testing allows guidance and support. The moderator can get a participant back on track in the case of them being confused. Facilitators can ask clarifying questions to better understand user behavior.
  • It results in participants that are more engaged. Moderators can have conversations with contributors, which helps establish trust and motivates the contributors to complete tasks.

Cons Of Moderated Usability Testing

  • It is mostly expensive to conduct. This method requires you to hire moderators, participants, and to find a venue for the testing.
  • Moderated testing requires preparation. It needs upfront planning, such as sourcing relevant equipment and coordinating time and date which is time consuming.

Which Method is Best For Me ?

Moderated tests are great for collecting quality feedback and understanding user behaviors via observing and asking questions in person. It is more engaging for participants and has a structure for support.

Unmoderated tests are budget friendly, poses no location limits, and can save time and physical effort and are flexible.

At the end of the day, the choice of which test is best is up to you and what your research goal is, including available resources. Analyze the pros and cons of each, and then reconcile it’s usefulness to your research purpose and this will help you decide better.

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