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3 Things You Shouldn’t Ask in a Usability Test

by Stefan Rössler on May 1, 2015 –

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Usability tests let you find out what’s clear and what’s not clear to people as they use your website.

Usability testing is NOT about opinions and that’s why there’s not much use in asking your participants the following questions:

1. What’s your (first) impression?

The worst way to start a usability test is by asking people about their first impression.

They will immediately provide you with their opinions and respond to this question by telling you whether they like or dislike your colors, fonts, and layout.

Throughout the rest of their session they will be primed to evaluate your product rather than to explore it.

The problem with this approach?

Instead of understanding what people think while they explore your website or app, you will only hear what they think about it.

That’s not usability testing, that’s asking for feedback.

2. What do you like/dislike about this page?

Hearing from people what they like or dislike is quite the same as listening to their first impressions.

Why? Because instead of performing usability tests you’re again having feedback sessions which won’t help you improve your product very much.

Usability tests are about watching people actually try and use the thing, and having them think aloud, so you get insights into what is clear to them, and what’s confusing, so you can make design improvements.

Steve Krug

3. What do you think about it?

When people express an opinion, in the course of a usability test, pay attention to it, act like you’re listening to it and taking it in. But, sort of, immediately let go of it and don’t fixate on it, don’t worry about it, just let it go. And make sure that you don’t give them the impression that you’re looking for more opinions.

Steve Krug

People will tell you their opinions whether you ask them or not.

Don’t ask them for more but try to frame your questions in a way that focuses their attention on understanding rather than evaluating.

Ask people what they think it is

Instead of asking for first impressions, likes, dislikes, and opinions, you could just ask your participants questions like these, based on what Steve Krug calls the homepage tour in his book Rocket Surgery Made Easy:

Please take a look at this site and tell us what you think it is: What’s the first thing you notice? What can you do on this site? What products or services are offered on this site? Who is this site intended for? Just look around and speak everything that comes to your mind.

There’s a subtle and yet important difference between asking about opinions and asking about understanding.

The latter is what you’re looking for in usability tests and if you’re interested in seeing how this works just go to userbrain.net.