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About this post

This is one of a special series of unboxing posts exploring the different options available for usability testing, covering the relative benefits of each as well as when to choose one approach over the other. From low-cost rapid remote testing through to moderated lab-based testing, there is no reason why some form of iterative improvement through user testing shouldn’t be a key part of every one of your digital projects, in order to create best-of-breed user experiences that deliver the highest levels of customer satisfaction and return on investment. For more information, take a look at our post comparing the various approaches on offer.

Laboratory usability testing overview

Laboratory usability testing is a ‘qualitative’ research method where participants are recorded as they attempt to complete a number of tasks on a website or application. Taking place in a purpose-built laboratory, each session is facilitated (or ‘moderated’) by a User Experience (UX) consultant and normally lasts between 45 minutes and one hour. A camera records the participant’s actions and audio (as they speak aloud), while specialist software records screen activity (and finger gestures if touchscreen devices are used).

Recordings of the sessions are saved for further review and analysis, but can also be relayed in real-time so people can observe from a dedicated viewing room or from any PC or tablet anywhere in the world. At Box UK we encourage client and project teams to visit our offices during usability testing where possible, to observe the sessions as they happen; this also allows for discussion sessions after the tests, to gain richer and clearer insights about the users’ behaviour, expectations and where they may have struggled.

Participants

The number of participants can vary from between 6 to 12, but it’s very much dependent on where and when the sessions are conducted. Participants are carefully selected based upon a number of key criteria in order to be as representative of typical end-users as possible. The UX consultant will also work closely with the client team beforehand to define (and refine) the user tasks and script for the sessions, ensuring that priority user journeys will be well-tested, without any unintentional bias or leading of users.

Deliverables

Usability testing deliverables will vary according to the nature of your project but at Box UK typical outputs include:

Before the test:

  • A test plan document outlining the proposed schedule, participant profiles, tasks, questions, session scripts, key research objectives and form

After the test:

  • If the client team are on on-site, a debrief session led by the UX consultant to discuss any key findings
  • Video combining screen and participant audio and video recordings
  • A summary report and/or stakeholder presentation covering key findings, participant comments, recommendations and next steps
  • A more detailed report covering all findings from minor to severe, usability metrics such as time on task and completion rates, and participant comments, recommendations and next steps

When to use it

You should consider laboratory usability testing if:

  • You want rich insights into how a website or application is currently performing, including the opportunity for further detailed questions and discussions with each participant after the test in order to better understand why they might have behaved in a certain way, what their expectations were, what could have been improved, etc; something you can’t always get with non-moderated testing
  • You want to mitigate risk and refine the user experience offered at any stage of the project lifecycle, from getting feedback on a new concept early in the development process and validating sites prior to launch to identifying areas for improvement in an underperforming service
  • You want to assess competitor sites or products in order to see first-hand what works well and where opportunities for differentiation lie
  • You want test participants who very closely match your target end-users and are available to attend testing sessions in person

Example project

An investment company wanted to test their website with new and existing investors to see how it performed. Five existing and five new investors were asked to complete a series of tasks and answer questions.

While existing investors enjoyed the website experience it was evident that the inexperienced users struggled to understand the content and suggested more videos, comparison charts and a wizard. Having addressed content gaps, the company saw an immediate increase in conversion rates.

Considerations

Due to the careful planning and selective recruitment process required to ensure representative end-users are involved, setting laboratory testing sessions up can sometimes take longer and cost more than some of the other options. Similarly, for some tests, the ‘lab’ environment may be too formal, or you may need immediate ‘quick and dirty’ insights right now – in which case guerrilla testing might be better. If getting representative end-users to travel to the laboratory in person is not possible, remote testing might be more appropriate. The trade-off for all of these considerations, however, is that moderated laboratory-based testing arguably provides the highest levels of insight and control compared to some of the other approaches discussed.

Contact us today

At Box UK we have a strong team of UX consultants with hundreds of hours’ testing experience, and a state-of-the-art lab set up to provide the best environment for the participant, facilitator and observer. If you’re interested in finding out more about how we can help you, get in touch with us by calling +44 (0)20 7439 1900 or emailing ux@boxuk.com.

About the author

Gavin Harris

Gavin Harris

Gavin Harris is an experienced Senior User Experience Consultant specialising in user testing, Information Architecture, HTML prototyping and web accessibility. Over the years he has worked with the likes of the Virgin Group, Land Rover, Kia, Orange and Unilever, and many other enterprise organisations.

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