Usability Testing and What You Need to Know

Usability testing is essential to creating any product or service. It helps designers and business stakeholders better understand what is and isn’t working from a user’s perspective. 

It can be difficult for a team to distance themselves from their work and the needs of the business, making it hard for them to spot errors or things that aren’t working well in the product. 

By having people who represent your users perform usability testing on your product, they will be able to give you an unbiased review of how well your product works with the audience it’s designed for. It also allows designers to fix cumbersome interface issues before a product is fully released to the market. 

What is Usability Testing?

Simply put, a usability test is a tool that a design or development team can utilize to ensure that their product or service performs the way it was intended to. Usability testing can occur as early as the initial design conception, during the production phase, and even years after a product or website has been released to ensure that nothing has broken or become outdated in the technology. 

The reason usability testing is so much more effective than simply allowing the designers to test it is because of direct user input that can be incorporated into the final design. 

User Testing vs. Usability Testing

While user testing and usability testing overlap in some instances, they each provide unique and valuable feedback to the design team. 

User testing, or what is now more preferably called generative research to not imply the user is themself being tested, will come before usability testing in a product’s lifecycle. This form of testing is used to understand the need for a product and its value to its end users as a means of solving a problem or helping them achieve a goal. Generative research can be performed through tools like surveys, interviews, or observation. 

On the other hand, usability testing is putting the product directly into the user’s hands, whether as a prototype or an actual product, so that we can test and measure how they interact with it. We can then use that feedback to iterate on the product, so we can test and measure its performance again with an improved design.  

When Does Usability Testing Happen?

Usability testing can happen at any stage during a product life cycle. In medical product applications, rigorous usability protocols must be satisfied to release a product (see IEC 62366-1) to ensure that they are safe for users according to human factors guidelines. In these cases, the stakes are high for good usability. Usability testing during a product’s design and development is often called formative. Usability testing that takes place directly before (or sometimes after) being released is called summative and is generally much more rigorous with pass/fail criteria that may inhibit a product from being released.


Formative usability testing is performed throughout the design process of a product. It allows a design team to get feedback and iterate on designs rapidly while the product is still being designed. 

Formative testing is efficient because a design team does not need a complete product or even a working prototype to begin getting feedback. This type of testing can start with a prototype as long as the sketch is detailed. 

Formative testing allows a design team to test numerous different processes while a design is fine-tuned. For example, for a flight booking app, the process in which a person books a flight could be tested to see if the process flows well and makes sense, where tasks like making a payment are put on the back-burner. 

By getting input back from users early and regularly throughout the process, a design team can iterate on designs quickly and in a low-cost way. 


Summative usability testing occurs toward the end of the product’s design process. Once a full working prototype or product has been developed, it can then be placed in front of users to interact with what will become the final product. Some companies prefer to do this before a product is released. Others might do this immediately after.

While we recommend that designers perform formative and summative testing for their products, it is not always feasible. If you can only do one type of usability testing, then summative testing is essential. However, if this is only testing you have time for, be prepared that you may be rebuilding or redesigning more significant pieces of the product.

End-stage summative helps designers identify usability issues with the product,  especially problems that make the product too broken to be released. It often involves having users step through every task that the product supports.

What Should be Tested During Usability Testing

The answer to “what does usable mean?” usually differs depending on the product. Most products have different success criteria, use cases, and heuristics that must be tested. For example, we would not typically test a medical device the same way we would test the usability of a retail store, as each has a different set of usability criteria that must be evaluated. Usability tests determine how well a product performs the tasks it was created for or how well it helps users accomplish their goals. Some common things we test include:Task completion efficiency – How successfully are users able to perform tasks in the system? Where is there friction?

  • Usability issues – What are the causes behind errors that users experience? (e.g., labeling, signage, navigation, interaction design, etc.) How frequently do these issues occur?
  • Key performance metrics – How well does the system perform compared to benchmarks from similar services or previous product iterations?
  • Heuristic evaluation – How well does the system comply with usability heuristics in its domain?
  • User satisfaction – How satisfied are users with the product’s design? (these kinds of metrics are only viable for more extensive quantitative studies)

Are there opportunities for improvement that we’re missing?

These elements of usability testing are tied to formative and summative testing. There are also more tactical approaches to usability testing, such as comparative testing- how usable is one design versus another? In comparative testing, users will be shown different versions of a product, and usability is measured between both designs. Comparative testing is typical with larger sample sizes in unmoderated settings. 

Who Participates in the Tests?

One of the most significant differences in usability testing is whether the test is moderated or unmoderated. 

In a moderated test, a person representing the design team remains present for the entirety of the usability test, sometimes accompanied by a notetaker or representatives from our client. This allows users to give their feedback instantaneously as they are experiencing it and allows the moderator to ask questions as the test progresses. Typically moderated tests include a small selection of representative users and are recorded.

Moderators can actively watch the participant use the product and note where they tend to linger in the process, what parts seem to frustrate or give them difficulty, and what they seem to enjoy the most. Moderated testing provides the most value to a design team but usually means a smaller participant group within a specific time frame and/or budget. 

In unmoderated testing, on the other hand, the participant will typically receive a digital prototype of the product that they can use. They will narrate on-camera or potentially write a review of their experience afterward. Sometimes these studies are run with larger sample size. This can be efficient and cost-effective, provided that the test has been thoughtfully crafted and the participants are precisely within the user group. That said, the main trade-off here is that there’s not a chance to ask the user any questions during the test or dig deeper into questions they miss or answer shallowly.

The Importance of Continued Usability Testing

Usability testing continues to be beneficial even after a product has been released. This allows designers to see what people continue to enjoy about the app or website and what they are frustrated with and want to be improved. It allows us to capture valuable data from live apps and use that to see where users experience friction compared to how many continue to use it. Most importantly, continued usability testing enables us to iteratively explore, measure, improve and iterate on our designs based on user feedback. Continued usability testing allows us to continually improve the user experience, which leads to more satisfied customers that will be more likely to use our products in the future. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

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The Challenges of Enterprise UX and How to Overcome Them

UX Enterprise software is an essential component of most major corporations, but unfortunately, it often gets a bad reputation. Enterprise UX designs are frequently clunky, unattractive, and generally not as streamlined and productive as they could be. 

But they don’t have to be. Working with our clients, Grand Studio has collectively created more user-friendly experiences for everyone who uses the software, ultimately even changing how organizations view their enterprise systems. 

Challenge #1: Software seems unaware of the user’s needs

A major stumbling block of designing enterprise UX is that these systems are not created for the traditional consumer user. In typical UX design, researching the user demographic to better understand their unique problems and requirements is one of the first steps in the process. 

With Enterprise UX, that essential research process is much harder to gather. There is often a disconnect between how a corporate user would optimally function and interact with the software and how the company believes that they should increase productivity.

Additionally, because the system will be designed and created to improve employee productivity, there will naturally be more people involved in the design and implementation processes than there should be. 

In a corporate setting, managers, shareholders, and department heads are typically involved in any discussions or decisions pertaining to creating the enterprise UX design. This leads to many waiting for approval, changing the design’s aspects, and resubmitting them before anything can get done. 

To counteract this, we often recommend working in smaller groups rather than trying to include everyone at once. Ideally, the company executives who work the most closely with the employees using the systems should work directly with the designers first. This allows them to achieve their vision first before submitting a polished system for review.

Challenge #2: The rigidity of traditional methods

Enterprise systems are essential to the overall functionality of corporate software. Large organizations can’t run smoothly without an enterprise system working behind the scenes to enable all of their company’s activities. 

Everything from storing essential information on the company database to employee communications to automating simple tasks is performed through the enterprise system. This system is comprised of several integrated tools and programs that should run seamlessly to allow employees to perform their duties efficiently and effectively. 

Unfortunately, that tends to be the dream for enterprise systems rather than the reality. Many of these systems were implemented decades ago as legacy systems intended to last forever without considering look, design, or the employees who would be using them. 

While it would often be more beneficial and less time-consuming to scrap the old software completely and start fresh, that is rarely allowed due to integration issues. Instead, designers must work with the existing legacy systems to create a new, functional, user-friendly interface.

An intertwined complication that many designers run into with these legacy systems is pushback from the employees themselves. It is not uncommon for employees to lament learning a new system when the one they are using works well enough for their work, even if the old system may have glaring flaws. 

Luckily, all hope is not lost. To counteract these problems, we recommend interacting with the current users to determine what flaws they recognize within the system they have decided that they can live with, even if they aren’t optimal. Begin by creating solutions to these problems to establish trust and rapport with the team. This will open future doors to revamping the whole system. 

It is important to understand that these legacy systems won’t be completely updated and revitalized overnight. Updating any enterprise system is a lengthy, time-consuming, costly, and complex process. Results won’t be immediately appreciated, but small, incremental changes that don’t receive a lot of pushback are essential for the approval of larger changes that must be made. 

Hurdles: Flexibility of different design methods and skilled practitioners

Trial and error being able to respond quickly (user surveys)

Challenge #3: Collaboration resistance between the stakeholders

It is virtually impossible to get perfect results the first time that a new change is implemented. Any type of UX design takes experimentation and feedback from the users to work out the kinks and to ensure that the best possible processes are chosen and created. 

The downside is that this type of trial and error takes time, and time costs money that shareholders or large companies may not be willing to invest without understanding how the process affects the outcome. 

There is also a small risk factor to the experimentation process, as sometimes new design changes can break older parts of the software which can cause issues for the way the company does business. 

Combined, this can cause the decision-makers within the company to be reluctant to take any chances with the design, and they often opt for the safer but less innovative designs. This often causes lines to be blurred between what stakeholders want and what the users want.

An additional problem arises in that it can be difficult to prove that the money being invested is well-spent since there is little-to-no empirical data to show. This can also cause managers to attempt to micro-manage the process in an attempt to gain clout within the company, which just further serves to hinder progress on the design side. 

Some of these problems can be addressed by holding design workshops rather than traditional meetings. This can open the door for executives and stakeholders to ask questions about the aspects of design that they do not fully understand and improves communication between executives and designers. These workshops can also help build trust and cooperation between the groups which can enable some risk-taking and experimentation to take place in the design. 

Challenge #4: A Long Release Cycle

The final, and arguably largest challenge that enterprise UX designers face is the extreme length of release cycles. It can take years to design and develop a new enterprise system, particularly if the designers have to work within the confines of a legacy system. 

Enterprise design takes so long because the designers have to repeatedly integrate small changes that must be tested and learned from slowly to ensure that they do not accidentally break any of the old, attached programs during the development process. No one wants to ruin an employee’s ability to use the tech while trying to improve the process. 

Sometimes, this can cause new and innovative ideas and systems to become outdated, or even obsolete, by the time they are implemented. This leads to further enterprise problems down the line for the next time that the system needs to be updated. 

While this is easily the most daunting part of designing for enterprise systems, there are some ways to help streamline the process. Ensure that you have an overall plan for the direction of the new system and make sure that you are showing the next steps in the design process to the people that will be approving them before it is time to start working on them. 

By getting approval and validation ahead of time, you can minimize resistance and reduce some delays in the approval process. 

The Future of Enterprise UX

Enterprise systems aren’t going anywhere in the near future, so designers must learn to adapt to and overcome the challenges that these systems can provide. Luckily, we are much more aware of the importance of design and usability in addition to function than we were thirty years ago when many of these systems were first established. 

Because of that, we can work to ensure that the new systems that we are creating will be efficient, effective, innovative, and flexible enough to be changed and updated further down the line. 

In addition, it will benefit designers to become more data-aware to support their requests and changes. By proving the benefits of these updates with data to shareholders and executives, we can eliminate some major roadblocks in the design process. 

Finally, by working with the executives and shareholders and including them in the process so that it is no longer an unknown and uncertain process, we can foster trust and cooperation that will allow the process to become more streamlined. Once we begin to work together, rather than against each other, we can finally start to create the enterprise software that we imagine. 

Want to learn how Grand Studio can help with your next project and build clarity out of complexity?

We’re here to help!