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Usability studies: see what your customers really do

In a usability study we observe real users doing real work with your product. There's no substitute for this feedback.

Here's what clients have said:

"What we saw him do wasn't what we expected."

"I never believed it would be so hard [to use]. I never thought people would have used it this way."

A usability study is one type of customer research, allowing us to understand your users better. Testing with prototypes lets us find problems before you write any code, making conceptual problems easier to fix.

We work with a small, but representative, group of users, based on personas. This allows us to observe their interactions, understand their goals, see where they have problems, and come up with solutions. It's all about observing behavior.

More information about usability studies

We learn a lot watching real users: the Usability Lessons blog

Read the Usability Lessons blog, summarizing many years of usability testing.

Sample blog posts:

Read other entries in the blog.

Other important observations

  • "Was I successful?" a participant asked in a recent study. We learned that the product has insufficient feedback, which stopped customers from getting their work done.
  • We had two methods of looking up phone numbers in an application and participants' preference was a surprise. Sometimes there's no way to decide how to present a feature without observing customers using it.
  • A recent study with a paper prototype had great results. Participants found ways to do things that we'd never though of, but the design supported them. We also found a few problems that were easy to fix because no one had written any code yet.

The usability report

The outcome of a usability study is a usability report. It is our analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your product and provides clear recommendations for fixing problems and building on strengths.

Quotations from participants support the recommendations. An expert review is part of every report, giving you our impressions of the UI. Download a free sample usability report (PDF) to see what we can do for you.

Remote vs in-person testing

With remote usability testing, we're not in the same location as the participant. Communication can be by telephone or Web-enabled software. Some of the software tools allow us to share screens, which is helpful

One benefit of remote testing is that scheduling is easier because participants don't have to travel and we can fit them in anytime during the day. There's no need to keep a lab (formal or informal) busy all day.

It's especially useful when you need to test people across the country, or across the world. In a recent study, we needed to talk with important stakeholders who serve in an advisory role for the client. Because they were in Canada or different US states, remote testing was the only way to set up the study, and it was very successful.


Usability testing can be more focused than focus groups because we work with individuals who are doing something, rather than talking about doing it. Let's talk about running a study on your product.