Conducting a usability test can be a stressful experience.

Attempting to make the participant feel relaxed, observe what they’re doing and ask insightful and appropriate questions at the right times can be overwhelming.

The good news is that you don’t have to become a multitasking god to make sure your next usability test runs smoothly. You just need to follow a few simple rules.

1. Create a test Script

Creating a test script beforehand is invaluable when it comes to moderating a usability test for three reasons.

Firstly, the script acts as a guideline, outlining the tasks you want the participant to complete and the questions you want to ask.

A script gives the session a structure to follow and return to when users do something unexpected as they often do.

It also means that you have less to think about and can focus your attention on what really matters: the participant and what they are doing.

2. Ask the right type of questions

As is the case with user interviews, there are the right and wrong types of questions to ask. The right questions result in deep insights that allow you to better understand your users. The wrong questions result in shallow insights and can lead you down the wrong path during the design process.

Avoid: Yes/No questions

  • Example: e.g. Did you notice the call to action button?
  • Why: Yes/no questions result in shallow insights. Even worse, as you draw attention to something your data becomes compromised. You want to observe a user and form your own conclusions instead.
  • Instead Ask: What and Why questions – e.g. What are you looking for?

Avoid: Leading questions

  • Example: Would you prefer if there was a message telling you what to do?
  • Why: Leading questions are worded in a way that introduces bias and influences how a participant might respond. The participant may also not have a strong opinion about whatever it is they were asked.
  • Instead Ask: What and Why questions – e.g. What information do you need to continue? Why is that important?

Avoid: Hypothetical/future-based questions

  • Example:  Will you use this feature if we add it?
  • Why: People are terrible at predicting the future. They often say things – and often really mean them- that doesn’t match up to the reality later down the line. Instead  observe users to assess the software and what needs to be fixed
  • Instead Ask: Specific questions about the past – e.g. Show me how you would complete this task

Avoid: Design feedback questions

  • Example: What do you think of the colors?
  • Why: You receive an answer that is based on an opinion from a participant who is an amateur in design, and likely doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.
  • Instead Ask: Task related questions – e.g. Show me how you would complete this task

3. Rehearse

It’s always a good idea to spend some time rehearsing before every usability test, especially if you’re not very experienced with moderating one.

You want to make sure that the technical setup is okay and are comfortable talking through the test script. This includes the introductions, asking the right questions at the right times and moderating the tasks.

4. Know the software

You can’t possibly expect to conduct a good usability test if you don’t know the software you want participants to use well. Thankfully, writing a test script already takes care of this aspect.

But it’s still worth stressing that knowing the software you want participants to use is a must if you want to ask the right questions at the right times and lead users through the tasks you want them to complete.

5. Don’t tell the participant what to do

This can be harder than it seems. Being the empathetic person you are, it can be challenging to not step in and help a participant out when they run into trouble.

But as the point of a usability test is to observe a user’s behavior as they use software so you can make better design decisions, you want to make sure you let a user complete the task at hand, regardless if they struggle or flow through it.

6. Don’t take the mouse

This is an easier rule to follow than the previous one. Just remember that it is the participant who is completing the tasks and is therefore in control. You are just the moderator overseeing them complete these tasks.

Of course, if you need to setup the task at the beginning or at any other point throughout the test it’s okay to take the mouse. But when the task starts, don’t touch that mouse.