An Introduction to Usability Testing

8446525843_8ca97b21c0_bContributed by Cait Porte

Usability testing is one of the areas I encourage my product management team to focus on. As the Director of Product Management and Consumer Experience for an Ecommerce company, it is extremely important that we base our decisions on data, not opinions.

One of the ways we collect this data is through usability testing. Usability testing is a process used to evaluate a product by testing it on users. The great thing about usability testing is that as long as the person hasn’t seen the product before, they can be part of your user group. This process is laid out in a book called Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

How It Works

The usability testing process involves showing a user a product, giving them a task to complete and watching (and recording) them attempting to complete the task.

Watching someone use a site that you’ve worked on or know well is extremely difficult. You realize that the buttons or descriptions you put on the site that you thought were easily understood were actually roadblocks for many of the people attempting to use your site. I found it hard to keep my hands to myself and not point to where the user should go. The feedback that the users provided was also very interesting – as they moved through the site, they commented on what they were looking at, what confused them and hopefully, if we were lucky, what they liked.

How Usability Testing Has Worked For Me

I’ve organized this type of testing in many organizations because it can be so helpful. For example, most recently, I completed this task using only design PDF’s. Running through the most common scenario, our team observed what users would expect to have the ability to do. After watching just 4 participants, our team learned two major issues needed to be addressed.

Since we are an ecommerce website, the scenario we had users complete was finding a product and adding it to their cart. As I watched, users had trouble finding the ‘add to cart’ button and the product price. Two areas our team thought were well developed turned out to need big changes. After making adjustments to these, we retested and found that the amount of time users spent on the task and the level of frustration decreased.

What I came away with from this was that usability testing should be done frequently (once a month of possible) with a small group of users. If you’re running several websites like my team is, I’d suggest users that were not familiar with your product, what it does or how it helps.

I encourage all of you to check out Steve’s book(s), website and blog for more info. For product managers, customer feedback and usability are two extremely important pieces of feedback that dictate the success of your product.

CaitPorteCait Porte is the Director of Product Management and Consumer Experience for Blueport Commerce in Boston’s South End.  She is responsible for being the voice of the customer when structuring the immediate and long-term strategy for product development.  She focuses her time in three key areas (business, technology and user experience) in order to create the optimal customer experience.  Cait works to support and prioritize customer requests and acts as the product owner within the development scrum team.  Originally from Long Island, she moved to Boston 7 years ago to start her career in Product Management.  She has consistently delivered optimized e-commerce experiences by identifying revenue enhancing opportunities within new and existing product lines.  She has spent time at both small start-ups and large global organizations in product management, responsible for identifying and implementing the product strategy for e-commerce platforms.  She has also worked for small divisions of Experian and Reed Elsevier, focusing on enhancing existing products and bringing new products to their respective markets. Cait got her MBA from Babson College in 2014. While at Babson, she has focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, paying particularly close attention to the start-up community.


One thought on “An Introduction to Usability Testing

  1. Hi Cait, thanks for the good explanation. I am active in new software development (web and mobile). I’d say usability testing (or more generic: user testing) is essential. Collecting (real) user feedback is the only way to know what you’re developing (functionally, user experience wise, etc) is actually meeting user’s needs. If you don’t run any experiment(s), you can’t do any (validated) learning, and all the ‘requirements’ could be classified as ‘assumptions’, till proven.

    Kind regards,



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