How To Write Effective Usability Testing Questions: A Beginner’s Guide

Raven Veal, Contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Understanding how real users interact with your website or application is essential to designing a good product. In this article, we will explore why usability testing is an important part of the user experience design process and how to craft effective usability testing questions. Let’s dive in!

An Introduction to Usability Testing

Usability testing is a research method that helps you understand how well users interact with a product in order to improve the overall experience. Traditionally, usability testing is used to achieve the following goals:

1. Gain insight on the relative value of your product

In a competitive market, it’s important to understand what makes your solution better than the other solutions people use. One of the goals of user testing, therefore, is to understand and validate your solution’s unique value proposition. In other words, how does your product solve problems better than existing solutions people commonly use?

2. Understand the most important features and why they are important

In addition to your product’s unique value proposition, it’s important to dig deeper to identify features of your design that are the main drivers of value. This understanding will help you clarify how much time and effort is required to further develop a particular aspect of your product. Furthermore, understanding the tasks, features, and user flows that derive the most value will guide you in creating more efficient, user-friendly designs.

3. Identify pain points in the user experience

Pain points are points of friction within the user experience that make a user’s interaction with your product inefficient or unpleasant. Pain points are usually related to:

  1. Navigation issues;
  2. A users’ misunderstanding of your messaging or content (for websites and mobile apps);
  3. A misalignment between what the user expects and what happens, or;
  4. Experiences that keep the user from completing their goal in using your product. Usability testing is conducted to help designers uncover these pain points and find ways to redesign product features to overcome them.

4. Explore what people are doing with your solution and why

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, usability testing will help you understand users’ actual behaviors. It’s true that people often say one thing and do another. Therefore, it’s up to the user researcher or designer to become an unbiased observer of the actual interactions that take place between a user and a product. It’s also important to follow-up your observations with probing questions that reveal the hidden motivations behind user behaviors.

Usability Testing Questions

Getting the information you need to design a product begins with asking the right questions. Usability testing sessions can be divided into three main phases of questioning: pre-testing, testing, and post-testing.

Pre-testing Questions

In this phase, the goal is to collect background information on the users engaging in the testing session. Pre-testing questions should enable you to:

  1. Uncover user demographics;
  2. Understand the existing approach to solving the problem your product aims to solve, and;
  3. Explore the user’s prior knowledge with respect to your product and the domain in which your solution exists.

1. User Demographics

Understanding the user’s background and demographics is important to narrow down your target market and identify factors that may affect use of your product. Example questions include:

  • To get started, can you tell me briefly about yourself?
    [Probe:] What is your current occupation?
    [Probe:] What is your household composition?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 (1=not at all confident, 5=very confident), how would you rate your level of confidence in using your mobile phone for [one or several tech savviness-related activities]?

2. Existing Approaches

It’s also important to ask questions that give you a clear indication of what the ideal experience would be like. This type of questioning provides insight on the relative benefits of your product. Example questions include:

  • How often do you [description of tasks related your product]?
    [Probe:] When was the last time you engaged in this task?
    [Probe:] What tools do you use, if any, to help with this task?
    [Probe:] Please describe your experience with this tool.

3. Prior Knowledge as a Baseline

Lastly, it’s helpful to evaluate users’ awareness of the problem your product is solving. Prior understanding can play a significant role in product usage. An example question includes:

  • Which of the following indicates how much you know about [problem your product is solving]?
    [Option 1:] I don’t know anything about that.
    [Option 2:] I know a little, but I could learn more
    [Option 3:] I am an expert.

Testing Questions

In this phase, the goal is to allow the user to interact with your product, while uncovering pain points within the experience. Testing questions should enable you to:

  1. Identify why users engage or disengage with the product;
  2. Understand how can you increase the product’s ease of use, and;
  3. Explore how to increase users’ overall satisfaction with your product.

1. Observing User Behaviors

Defining specific tasks for users to achieve while using the product is critical to testing. In addition, it’s important to observe the user’s actual interactions and how these interactions relate to a pleasant or unpleasant user experience. Example questions include:

  • What are you thinking as you view [specific page or feature]?
  • If you were looking for [information], where would you expect to find it?
  • How was the experience of using the product to complete this task?
    [Probe:] What are your thoughts on the language used?
    [Probe:] How easy or difficult was it to navigate?
    [Probe:] What are your thoughts on the design and layout?
  • [Internal] How long did it take the user to complete this task?

2. User Motivations for Behaviors

After observing user behaviors, it’s important to understand the “why” behind user interactions. This feedback provides greater insight into what improvements should be made in order to align your product with user expectations. Example questions include:

  • Why did you navigate to [Page A] instead of [Page B]?
  • What motivated you to click [a specific interaction]?

Post-Testing Questions

In this phase, the goal is to gather feedback on the overall user experience. Post-testing questions should enable you to comprehensively evaluate the performance of each task, connected together to form a seamless and cohesive experience.

1. End-to-End User Experience

An evaluation of the end-to-end user experience provides insight into any changes that need to be made to the workflow within your product experience, such as a feature within an application that feels disconnected from another. Example questions include:

  • How would you describe your overall experience with the product?
  • What did you like the most about using this product?
  • What did you like the least?
  • What, if anything, surprised you about the experience?
  • What, if anything, caused you frustration?

2. Overall User Impression

Post-testing questions should also provide insight into the user’s impression with the product. Example questions include:

  • On a scale from 1 to 5 (1=not at all likely, 5=very likely), how likely are you to recommend this product to a friend?
  • How frequently would you use this product?
    [Option 1:] Never
    [Option 2:] Very Rarely (once per month)
    [Option 3:] Rarely (2-3 times/month)
    [Option 4:] Occasionally (2-3 times/week)
    [Option 5:] Frequently (1-2 times/day)
    [Option 6:] Very Frequently (3+ times/day)

Usability Testing Questions: Key Takeaways

As a UX designer, one of the most important skills is the ability to uncover user behaviors in relation to your product. Usability testing is one method to place in your toolbox, and one of the best ways to understand how real users experience your website or application. Check out come of the resources below for more insight on how to approach your user testing sessions.

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