Qualitative usability tests can help you learn about how usable (or unusable) your new product or feature may be. They’re great for testing new designs, learning about how users navigate through a process, or getting real-time feedback from users.
If you're ready to go, you can start recruiting participants for your qualitative usability study right now. We’ve preloaded your study with most of the information you’ll need to get started and set it for 5 thirty-minute sessions, conducted online. You can change any of the preloaded information to fit your specific needs. You can save your study as a draft and launch it whenever you're ready.
Qualitative usability testing happens when a researcher interviews a participant while they test the usability of a product, feature, or service.
Qualitative means you're learning about why, not just what (as is the case in quantitative research), so it involves the participant telling you how they’re working through the process and what they’re feeling. Quantitative usability testing, like A/B testing and first click testing, rely on the data you get from the user's actions and are often unmoderated.
Usability means you’re testing how usable or unusable your product is. Does it make sense to the user? Are they able to complete the task they set out to? Are there ways to improve the experience for them? Usability testing is centered around a task or tasks you’d like a user to complete, like finding the phone number for your business, or launching a research project. You go into research with these tasks in mind and guide the user through their completion. Most teams use a mix of qualitative and quantitative usability testing methods to create better products and processes. For example, you could learn about how a user launches a research project with qualitative usability testing, then test whether or not a red or green button works best with A/B testing.
Qualitative usability testing will help you answer questions about the usability of your product, feature, or service. It works best when you need feedback about a process or a complicated task or decision. For example, you could get good quantitative data about what version of your pricing page attracts the most buyers with an A/B test, but qualitative testing will allow you to dig more deeply into why users are choosing one version over another.
You need a product or prototype for qualitative usability testing, so it’s not a good choice if you’re early in the discovery phase of your research. Try product/market fit interviews, or more general user interviews instead.
Usually, it is! According to Nielsen Norman Group, you’ll learn most of what you need to know about the usability of your product in just five sessions. After that, you’ll typically reach the point of diminishing returns and may be wasting your time and your participant’s time in a usability test. If you want to do more sessions, NNG recommends doing more focused studies with 5 users each. So if you have the time to do 10 sessions, focus on 2 usability issues instead of just one.
Who you talk to can change depending on what you want to learn. This launch kit helps you launch a usability testing study with people who aren't your customers. Sometimes, you’ll want to talk to your users for usability testing. If you’re working on a feature in an existing product, or improving a part of your product that makes most sense to regular users, you’ll want to talk to them about how they view the changes. If you want to launch a study with your own users, check out Research Hub Free Forever, which will help you manage a research panel of your own customers for free, forever.
In other scenarios, it’s better to test usability with people who aren’t familiar with your product. A good example is testing an onboarding flow, or learning more about how users might evaluate your pricing page. People who don’t use your product regularly will be able to give you feedback that matches more closely with what a real live new user might feel.
With all research, it’s important to ensure you’re talking to the right people to get the most out of your study. So once you’ve established the test you want to conduct, think about who can best answer your questions. Are power users the right people to talk to about new user onboarding? Probably not. Try to align the participants you choose to talk to closely with who would actually use this product in the real world.
During qualitative usability testing, you’ll be watching the participant complete a task or encounter a new part of your product. So you’ll want to ask questions about how they’re completing that task and why they’re making the decisions they are. We’ve got a whole list of questions to get you started in our templates above.
In usability testing you want to follow the participant’s lead. Don’t get too stuck on asking each and every question on your list, or the order in which you do things. Pay attention to how the participant is moving through the process, their body language and their reactions, and ask them to let you in on their thought process. Ask open ended questions that allow them to say as much as they need to, like “why did you choose that option?” or “walk me through your initial thoughts about this page.”
It’s usually a good idea to get a note taker for research. Note takers can be anyone on your team that is involved with the process of building your product, or just anyone interested in learning more about research. Having a note taker helps you, the moderator, focus on the session and the participant, instead of trying to jot down everything they’re saying.
We have a template that makes it easy for your note takers to take easy-to-code notes. This launch kit also includes a tag manager to help you keep track of which behaviors you observe during your usability testing session. Your notetakers can just check the boxes of the tags they see during the session.
We’ve got a template for that too! Our feedback analysis template automatically copies the notes you take during research into an easy to scan analysis spreadsheet, so you can spend more time digesting your insights and less time organizing them.
Once your study is finished, you can dig further into the notes you took during research, identify themes, and put together a report about what you learned. Hopefully our insights template makes this process a little easier!
Note that qualitative research is especially prone to bias—but you can identify and mitigate your personal biases by practicing reflexivity throughout the study, from study design to analysis.