Back to all posts

Convince stakeholders to undergo usability testing on your project

We all know we should do usability testing, but many of us struggle to find the time and budget. So how can we make it happen as a regular part of our workflow?

Don’t worry. This is not another post lecturing you about the importance of usability testing. If you are a professional web designer you already know that. This is especially true if you are building an ecommerce site. Even the smallest change can impact conversion rates.

Don’t worry. This is not another post lecturing you about the importance of usability testing.

No, this post is about actually making that usability testing happen. Because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen as much as it should. Time and budgetary constraints often push it out of our workflow. Yet when we explain how important usability testing is to clients and bosses, they don’t get it.


1. Making the case for usability testing

The first thing to say is that in many ways you shouldn’t have to make the case for usability testing. You don’t have to make the case for any other aspect of how you do your job, so why do you have to make the case for that? Do you have to justify to your client why you produce a design comp? Or why you experiment with different approaches to typography? In the same way, usability testing should just be a part of your normal workflow.

The problem is that we often draw attention to the cost of usability testing. We show it in pricing tables as a separate line item. We also list it as a distinct task in our project plans. By drawing attention to it in this way, we encourage clients to challenge the need for it. 

This is partly because we approach usability testing in the wrong way. We should be testing a little and often throughout a project. Instead, we add a single block of time dedicated to it towards the end. This is a bad approach for two reasons.

First, it is not the best way to do testing. Usability testing is much more effective when you run many rounds throughout the project. This identifies more problems that need fixing than a single round. But it also identifies those problems earlier in the project, when the cost of fixing them is less.

Usability testing 2017: Steve Krug
As Steve Krug explains in his book Don't Make Me Think, many rounds is better than many users.

Second, it is harder to hide a single large block of testing in your project plan. Effectively, you draw attention to it as an extra cost in the project. But if you spread your testing throughout the project it looks like a part of business as usual. This is exactly what it should be.

But I still need to justify testing

I accept we can't always avoid a conversation about the value of usability testing. Instead of getting into debates about its benefits, the best approach is to suggest trying it. 

Even a single round of testing with just three participants is often enough to prove its value. You will identify problems that would have been much more expensive to fix post-launch. Problems that would have reduced the conversion rate, especially on an ecommerce site.

Even a single round of testing with just three participants is often enough to prove its value.

But even more compelling is showing the clients the result of those usability tests. In an ideal world, the client should watch the tests themselves. But failing that you can show them a highlight video of key moments. In my experience, once somebody sees usability testing in action they stop doubting its value.

It might be that you need to carry out that first round of usability testing yourself. You may even have to pay for it, and do it in your own time. But I promise you, it will be worth it in the long run.

Whether you’re paying for usability testing, or the client is covering it, you will want to keep the cost down. Few companies have the budget for expensive usability testing. So how can we make usability testing as cheap as possible?


2. Keeping the cost down

Usability testing does not need to be expensive. You do not need a usability lab or a professional facilitator. You can do it yourself with minimal equipment and no experience.

For a start, don’t worry about getting exactly the right people. Almost anybody will do, unless you have an audience with unusual needs; an audience such as the elderly or children. Most of us encounter the same usability challenges no matter our background or education.

In fact, you can use anybody outside of those working on the project or those familiar with it in some way. I often use friends and family, or those I know through social media.

You also only need five people for each round of testing. As Jakob Nielsen explains, more than six people provides diminishing returns. Adding more people does not uncover a corresponding number of new problems.

You also only need five people for each round of testing. As Jakob Nielsen explains, more than six people provides diminishing returns.

The reason for this is simple. Most of us struggle with the same issues. In tests, you see people getting stuck on the same problem time and again. In the end, it’s better to stop testing, fix the problem, and run another round of testing. This means that people can progress past the initial issues. That uncovers more problems deeper in the experience.

Usability testing 2017: Jakob Nielsen
As Jakob Nielsen explains, more than five users is a waste of resources.

You also don’t need any special equipment. A laptop with a webcam and microphone is all you need. There are lots of applications that will record the screen and the user through the webcam at the same time. But I use a web app called

One of the things I like about this application is that you’re not limited to testing with people in the same room. You can test with people remotely too. This can be another big cost saving as you don’t need to cover people’s travel expenses. Instead, you can speak to them through VoIP and watch them complete tasks on their screen. You can even see them through their webcam.

Usability testing 2017: Lookback app
Lookback allows you to carry out testing in person or remotely.

Whether in person or remote, the software allows you to record and edit tests for later reference. This makes them an invaluable tool in resolving disagreements later in the project. This helps justify the time required for testing.


3. Finding the time

There is a belief that usability testing takes too much time. But in my experience it will save time on a project. This is because usability testing is such an effective way of resolving disagreements. We can agonize for hours over the best approach, when a few minutes of testing would let you know for sure.

There is a belief that usability testing takes too much time. But in my experience it will save time on a project.

But the time savings do not stop there. Usability testing will also help identify problems early. Problems that would be time consuming to fix later.

That said, it’s not always easy to make that argument to a client or boss who has not seen usability testing in action. This means it’s necessary to keep our initial usability testing lightweight. This will allow us to do it as fast as possible.

One option is to reduce your initial testing to what has become known as “corridor testing.” Instead of formal usability testing, you get up from your desk and grab a few minutes of somebody’s time. It’s completely informal; no need to book a room, record the session, or arrange a meeting. You just show your work to whoever you can find, and have a quick chat.

You can do this with no disruption to your workflow and without having to wait to arrange a test session.

There are also services like This site allows you to submit a task you wish users to complete. They then go away and find somebody to complete that task. What makes this service so useful is that you do not need to waste any time arranging the test session. What’s more, in my experience, you often get results back in under an hour.

If you don’t want to pay for, use your Twitter and Facebook channels. It’s easy to do quick and informal tests with people from your social media network. You can either connect with them via, or point them to a test they can do themselves. By using automated tests, you can test with more people and not have to oversee each test yourself.

For more basic tests on static design comps, you might wish to consider a tool like Verify. Verify provides a link to a test that you can share on social media, helping you get almost instant results.

This article was originally posted at:

Can we take you from stuck to unstuck?

We'd love to hear from you

Product Design

The ‘Product’ is the website, service, application, interactive thing being worked on by the business. The practice of Product Design is similar in a lot of ways to UX Design. It involves the coming together of many specific design disciplines...

Call to action (CTA)

A call to action is a marketing term that refers to a prompt that invokes a response leading to a sale. When referring to a call to action (CTA) in the digital design world we usually mean the interactive element that leads to the next step in the experience - something that needs to be clicked or tapped.

User testing

User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed.


WYSIWYG (pronounced WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get". It helps identify an an interface that allows user input resulting in an output that is rendered in a similar way. For example; a word processor application interface might resemble a piece of paper,so when printed the user can see how the output will appear.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is an tool that allows a website editor/administrator to manage the content that is displayed. Websites are made of HTML and CSS to create pages. Pages can be hard-coded but would require technical development skills to make changes. A CMS usually allows a person without coding knowledge to amend existing and add new content to a website using a WYSIWYG interface.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design refers to a web page that dynamically adapts its layout to fit the size and orientation of the device on which it is viewed. A responsive design allows for a more optimised user experience across desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones and tablets of varying sizes.

User Stories

User stories allow the functionality of a product or service to be expressed as written descriptions of an experience as seen from the users perspective. The writing of user stories creates a list of design and development tasks to complete in order to create any required functionality.

User Interface

A user interface (UI) is a conduit between human and computer interaction - the space where a user will interact with a computer or machine to complete tasks. The purpose of a UI is to enable a user to effectively control a computer or machine they are interacting with, and for feedback to be received in order to communicate effective completion of tasks.


A persona in UX Design is the characterisation of a user who represents a segment of your target audience. On a project you might create any number of personas to be representative of a range of user needs and desires. The solutions you design must answer these needs in order to deliver value to your target audience.

Card sorting

A great, reliable, inexpensive method for discovering patterns in how users would expect to find content or functionality. Card sorting is used to test the taxonomy of data with a group of subjects, usually to help inform the creation of the information architecture, user flow, or menu structure on a project.


A technique used to generate ideas around a specific topic. Often done in groups, but can be done individuals. The process usually involves writing down all ideas around a topic onto paper, a whiteboard or stickies often implying some kind of association.

Minimum Viable Product

An MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis for a product. Businesses building a new product can create a Minimum Viable Product to prove that an idea is viable and warrants further investment. A further benefit being that the next stage of development can be informed by feedback obtained from testing that MVP.


A sitemap is a diagrammatic representation of a hierarchical system. It usually depicts the parent-sibling relationship between pages in a website, showing how sub pages might be arranged underneath their parent groupings. This arrangement forms a map of the site.

User journey

A user journey represents a sequence of events or experiences a user might encounter while using a product or service. A user journey can be mapped or designed to show the steps and choices presented as interactions, and the resulting actions.


A prototype is draft representation built to test ideas for layout, behaviour and flow in a system. Prototypes are an indispensable tool for resolving a large number of potential issues in a concept or business before too many resources are deployed to put a design into production.


A Wireframe is a visual schematic that conveys a basic level of communication, structure and behaviour during the design of a system. Wireframes are low-fidelity designs that bypass including a detailed user interface or visual design, conveying just enough to get across the core idea.


To say something is usable is a qualitative statement about how easy that thing is to use. Usability is an assessment of how learnable a system is and how easy a user finds it to use. The usability of a system or product is a key factor in determining whether the user experience is a good one.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is the design and organisation of content, pages and data into a structure that aids users understanding of a system. A more organised system enables users to more easily find the information they require and complete the intended tasks.

UI Design

User Interface Design is the discipline of designing software interfaces for devices, ideally with a focus on maximising efficiency, responsiveness and aesthetics to foster a good user experience.

UX Design

The practice of User Experience (UX) Design is the coming together of many specific design related disciplines to improve the usability, responsiveness, uptake and aesthetics of a product or service.

User Experience

A general term that covers all aspects of a user's participation while engaging with something that has been designed. Usually when talking about User Experience in the digital design field it refers to the interactions, reactions, emotions and perceptions while using an app, service, website or product.