How UX Design Can Uncover Usability Holes in Your Products

Illustration by Jennifer Hiew
September 10, 2021
written by
Jennifer Hiew
UX/UI Design

You’re excited—today’s the day your product is finally hitting the market after years of development, conducting studies, market research, iterating, prototyping, and production! The companion app is finished and ready for official release, and after weeks of PR hype people are eager to try your new and innovative device for themselves. Soon several reviews start popping up all over the web, but you notice a trend where users initially enjoy using it, then simply stop despite raving about all its great features. You scratch your head; why don’t people want to keep using your product? Where did things go wrong?

Simply put, there are no easy answers as to where, how, or why things went wrong after the launch of a product. You can still do everything “right” in prototyping, production, and marketing, but the difference between a successful product and an unsuccessful one is often determined by testing for usability, or user testing.

Usability testing is a UX research methodology that is utilized to gauge how users interact with and use a product or specific features of a design, with the goal of determining degree of user satisfaction and identifying potential usability problems. It involves facilitating a series of tasks for participating users—usually the representative or target market—and observing how these users complete their given objectives within a defined time frame. Participants provide valuable qualitative and quantitative feedback for UX designers to implement necessary changes to their designs after carefully analyzing the testing results.

Usability testing can be conducted at any stage of the design process from development to production and release, and is useful invalidating a variety of design aspects including:

  • Ease of use.
  • Degree of user enjoyment and satisfaction.
  • Pain point identification and severity.
  • Assessing behaviours and preferences of target users.
  • Understanding motivations behind user interactions.
  • Gaining insights and seeking opportunities to improve the product or design.
  • Resolving problems and finding solutions.

Why Bother With User Testing?

It’s important to remember and understand that you are not designing a product for yourself, but for a consumer; and this is where many designers, companies, and their clients may fail in their approach to produce a viable and successful product. Something that may be perfect to you may not necessarily appeal to your target market.

For example, take this scenario. You’re developing a product that helps to improve the posture of people who sit at a desk for the majority of their day by giving them reminders and suggesting tips on how to sit comfortably to reduce back strain. Generally speaking, the process involves designing two things: something that detects how people normally sit and something that allows the user to understand how to correct their posture. The goal of the product is to improve the user’s overall quality of life while being non-intrusive.

After some time, the product reaches a point where you’re satisfied with how well it spots posture changes and are optimistic about releasing it sooner than the projected time frame. Prototypes are sent to a select number of users for testing. You receive results where users report the following recurring pain points:

  • “It’s annoying because it tells me to “sit up straight” too often.”
  • “I like the product, but I want settings to customize how often I’m sent reminders. I’m getting too many and it can be distracting.”
  • “I can’t tell if I’m sitting correctly or not, since the device doesn’t give me affirmation when I change my posture. It only gives me a suggestion.”
  • “I’m already sitting in a comfortable position, but the one the device suggests to me isn’t comfortable at all.”

As a result, the product release is pushed back several months because of the overall negative experience in using the prototype that uncovered many seemingly simple usability problems. This situation could have been prevented if a usability test was conducted at an earlier stage of development to identify the product’s potential holes and pitfalls, which would consequently have saved resources and time that was instead spent on rectifying these issues.

With the ever increasing rapid-fire speed at which devices are released every day, the fast-paced environment of product development does not allow for much leeway for errors caused by lack of user testing or other UX research methodologies. Usability testing is proven to be a useful tool that helps designers to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in their products in an effective and efficient way.

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