Product Management 101: Usability Research

Usability research is about testing a product for ease of use. If you have a website or app that is hard for users to use, then it’s not “usable.” Users will not want to use it. However, even if you start off with poor ease of use, all is not lost. This is where usability research comes into play.

The intent is to get real users to try your product and give you direct feedback on how easy it is to use. The process to improve the usability of your product is iterative – meaning that you show users a version of it; you get feedback; you act on the feedback and incorporate improvements to the interface of the product; and you then get more feedback from users to continue its evolution into a truly simple-to-use, intuitive product.

Woman in Black Coat

Users may like the way information is organized on your app but hate the way it takes two steps to go backwards if they make an error. This kind of feedback on the usability of the app would lead you to work to trim down the process to one step. Or if you discover during usability research that users think it is difficult to post messages, you can make improvements.

People don’t want to have to “think” when they are using a website or app. They just want to do things with as few steps as possible and with actions that seem “familiar.” For instance, if you create a new social media site, having functionality and design that is similar to today’s most popular social networks (without directly copying them, of course) would give you a higher usability score.

How to get feedback

Users don’t just come to you for usability testing. You have to go to them; you have to find them and recruit them. You can start off with people you know if your product is for the general public. If your product is for a certain category of customers (i.e. healthcare professional), then you’d need to recruit healthcare pros to give feedback on your product.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Design a survey (i.e. using SurveyMonkey) and send it to your target audience via social media or email
  • Post the link in online groups that center on a topic related to your product
  • Ask people you know for referrals and to share the link
  • Ask people if you could give a live demo and ask them for their feedback in real time

Many people will be interested to see an innovative new product and be excited to be part of the evolution of it by giving feedback. They will be honored that you asked them for their expertise. But you don’t want to overdo it or overstep the boundaries. It’s not polite to assume that these people will give you all the time in the world. You should ensure them that the survey will only take a few minutes. You may even want to give them an incentive, such as free (limited time access) when the product is “completed.”

You also want to make sure that people are giving you genuine feedback – not just to make you feel good. You need to invite constructive criticism, which is why it is better to get feedback from objective users, not friends and family – even though friends and family could help you out and be a source of inspiration and encouragement in the beginning.

Person Holding Marker

How often to do it

There is no one set time for how frequently to do usability research. It depends on the product and how fast you and your team can make improvements.

If you can make improvements every two weeks because of using agile methods with “sprints,” then you could do usability testing every two weeks. You will want to get feedback as soon as possible, so the development team can continue to refine the product.

The goal is to make your product as easy to use as possible. Just look at the most popular sites and products – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, iPhones, MacBooks, Amazon, Google, Microsoft – all easy to use.  All are “usable” and that’s why they make billions of dollars. It takes an intense process and openness to hard feedback to get to the highest degree of usability.  

Do your research and stay committed to it.