Product Design

March 12, 2019

/ code & tools

What every software tester should know about Usability Testing?

Dorota Niezborała i Łukasz Michnowicz

Quality assurance is mostly associated with the programming part of the software development process. Manual or automated it’s not only about finding bugs or technical problems with the apps. As this discipline is dynamically developing in many directions across software houses in Poland, Europe and the rest of the world the responsibilities and assignments of QA specialists are being broadened. One of the fields which exemplify this process is the increase of Usability Testing - the area where software testing is getting really close with the user experience.

Everyone who chooses Quality Assurance occupation as the career path is faced with learning a variety of methodologies, processes, and tools in order to find the best test types and apply them to the project. Nowadays, the tester performs both manual and automated tests, learns programming languages, familiarize with issues related to performance, can identify security problems and acquires new ISTQB certificates. In this jumble of notions sometimes also scrolls about the topic of Usability Testing (UT), which in the era of UX design as the separate field has sometimes gone into the background.

What’s usability testing?

Before we dig any deeper into this topic, let’s find out what does usability mean. In the computer engineering field, we can consider this term as the level of functionality and intuitiveness of using the website. And here comes further questions. What can we say about the learnability of the page? How easy it is to use the page for the first time and each time we return to the page? Do users like the page? The more we think about the UX design, the questions may be more and more complex.

So what is Usability Testing? It is software testing that helps us to check if the product is understood, easy to learn, intuitive to operate and attractive to the users under specified conditions. What to do to start this kind of testing? First of all, we should set its goal by answering the questions like what do we want and when the product will be good enough to satisfy the users. We should keep in mind things like the readability of the layout, data information architecture, the comprehensibility of the content, the smoothness of navigation. And those are only some of the most important aspects.

User Acceptance Testing vs Usability Testing

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is what comes to many software testers' minds when thinking about Usability Testing. And the most important thing before going into details is to spot the difference between these two fields as they do not mean the same thing. We should think about UAT as the final checkpoint, executed by the users. Do they meet any problem with the web page's design part? And the usability testing is about testing if the web application is easy to use by the end users.

User Experience role in Usability testing

The next thing we can’t omit while talking about UT is User Experience. It is based on how potential customer feels about every interaction with the app or website in the very moment of using it. UX is often mistaken or used as equivalent of usability, but the key element is experience; you can dial phone number on a rotary phone - but simply being able to achieve your task of calling your friend, does not give us the whole picture of how you felt about it, and how much rather you would use modern telephone keypad. People will more likely use products with better UX, things that they like, feel attached to, things that will help them out or solve their problems in the most comfortable and frictionless way possible. That is why it is important to not only work with UX specialists but also to engage them early in the software development process to make sure that your application uses optimal and useful solutions. The better the User Experience, the greater the chance that customers will buy the product, and stay loyal to it. 

A/B testing in UT 

A common misconception about alpha and beta testing is that both techniques involve end-users with their own hardware. It has its roots in the video games industry during the era of a buggy and everlasting early access games.  Big players tend to use potential customers as a free workforce to catch the flaws of their software, app or web page. The pompously called “closed alphas” are nothing more than a pre-release demo and have little to nothing to do with real alpha and beta testing used as a stage in a software release life cycle. 

Alpha and beta testing are characterized by a few key factors - location, team, and techniques used in testing. Alpha testing is often conducted inside of the organization, software house or company, by an independent team that does not include people involved during the development. Those teams consist of other developers, using white box techniques and usability QA team (or other testing team) with a black box, or even gray box techniques. The main goals of the alpha testing, is to evaluate the quality of the product, find bugs (issues or bugs are logged, and fixed by developers with high priority), and to answer the key question - “Does the product work?”. Alpha release may lack some additional features, but software in this stage is completed in around 70% - 90%.

Beta tests are slightly different and the key difference is the environment. Testing is most often conducted in a real-world equivalent with end-users or potential customers for whom the product is designed. They serve the role of testers. This time only black box techniques are used. Any potential issues found in the process are mostly in a form of suggestions or feedback and are classified as improvements for future releases, as at this point, software is completed in around 90% - 95%. The main question behind this type of tests is “Do customers like the solution?”. The expectations about the product in this stage are to have a major part of the completed version with significantly fewer bugs and crashes.

QA + UX = Best apps ever

As it was mentioned at the beginning of this article, software testing as the IT development field is growing strong and it is growing fast. Quality assurance specialists can broaden their minds and develop further their expertise in Usability Testing by getting the Foundation Level Usability Testing Certification. The most important things every tester should get from UT is to understand the basic concepts of usability and identify some risks in the product, e.g., web application. It is not to interfere with UX Designers work, but rather to establish a close and mutual cooperation in order to understand the process of user experience. Besides, the quality is what we all should care about.

 

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