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The ROI of usability testing is undeniable. Here’s the rationale, and how to make the most of it while working remotely.

This post combines the perspectives of First Circle Product Designer Frances To with self-published content from Koncept App. You can read Frances’ Dribble post here, and Koncept’s content here. Some content has been slightly edited for spacing or clarity. Artwork by Dragana Krtinic and Uran.

User experience is now recognized as the key differentiator of successful digital products. When it comes to the complex discipline of UX design, all efforts are focused on the end goal of making users happy.

To achieve this goal, a UX design needs to ensure that users find value in the product you are providing to them. The experience also needs to be seamless and without friction, letting users complete their tasks quickly and efficiently. However, many companies are still obsessing about how to make their products “feature rich,” losing sight of the core of any great user experience – usability.

There are real and substantial costs associated with this kind of design oversight, because today’s customers appreciate the ease of use far more than the complexity of too many functions. They’ll abandon your product quickly and go for an easier and more user friendly alternative.

The Obvious ROI of Usability

Integrating usability into the product design process early on has substantial impact on cost savings. It is painfully obvious that creating a usable product the first time around is much more efficient than having to make changes to it once you’re knee-deep in code, and you’ve poured a lot of money into development.

Let’s look at the figures shown by several industry studies:

  • Every dollar spent on UX brings in between $2 and $100 dollars in return.
  • Fixing design issues or redesigning a product in the development phase costs 10 times more than making the same fixes early in the design phase.
  • Fixing a digital product once it’s been released – the costs can then be as much as 100 times higher!

Ignoring the importance of usability testing from the outset of the project can literally ruin the product’s chances of success. Without it, you are driving blindfolded and you can’t be sure that the product you’re building is actually usable and won’t require costly or impossible changes later on.

If you’re serious about meeting the needs of your end users and understanding how they interact with your product, then there’s simply no way to go around user testing.

Benefits of this still overlooked element of the design process include:

  • Decrease in product development costs
  • Shorter development cycles
  • Increased user retention and satisfaction
  • More customer loyalty & trust
  • Improved revenue & market share.
The Less Obvious ROI of Usability Testing:

While the most obvious benefits of usability testing are related to significant savings in time, money, and financial resources, there are less obvious benefits that transcend any specific project and positively impact the entire UX practice in an organization.

  • If a design team continuously tests products’ UX with real users to ensure customer satisfaction, this will impact the ROI in more ways than one.
  • Usability testing brings insight and knowledge about user behavior and interaction with a product that can be applied to similar projects in the future. You can find a pattern that will help you invest less time and effort in UX and testing while achieving the same results.
  • Usability testing empowers your design team to make better assumptions about product’s features, functionalities, and behavior. This will eventually lead to a scenario where your company delivers products that attract the highest numbers of users with the least amount of development effort.
  • The more effort you invest in usability, the more you’ll be able to differentiate your products from competitors and consequently drive up revenue and increase customer loyalty.

As companies continue to embrace the work from home lifestyle, UX research methods like remote usability testing have become more relevant than ever.

While remote usability tests share a lot of similarities with its in-person counterpart, remote usability tests require more preparation and planning, especially in setting up the tools you use. This can be tough, especially when it’s your first time conducting a remote usability test.

Use these five tips to run more effective remote usability tests.

1. Recruiting users is more effective with the help of friends

Recruiting users can sometimes be difficult, especially when they come from a niche demographic. Chances are, you might not know a lot of people from this demographic. You might also spend a few hours looking for leads and cold-calling them one by one.

A workaround to this is to ask friends who know people from these demographics to introduce you to them. That way, the interaction between you and a potential recruit is warmer since you’ll be known as the friend of his or her friend.

It’s easier to get potential recruits to participate in your usability test when you’re more familiar to them.

For example, when your target users are middle-aged owners of small businesses, and you happen to have a friend who’s well-connected to these types of people, you can ask your friend to introduce you either through email or online group chat. It’s easier to get potential recruits to participate in your usability test when you’re someone who’s more familiar to them.

2. Gauge what setup works best for your recruited users

In some cases, your users might not have certain software such as Zoom or Skype installed on their devices. Sometimes, they don’t use digital products like Google Hangouts or don’t own computers with a working webcam. Things like this can hinder you from conducting a remote usability test with your users. As such, it’s important to gauge what kind of setup works best for them by asking the following questions days before a remote usability test:

  • Do you have a computer with a working webcam? If not, can you use your smartphone?
  • Do you have the needed application/s (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Viber, etc.) on your device?
  • If you don’t have the aforementioned software, are you willing to install it on your device?
3. Have a list of backup plans in case anything goes wrong during testing

Not everything goes as planned during a usability test. WiFi can slow down, your users may not know how to use certain video conferencing software, and your users can forget they have to join a remote usability test in the first place. The list goes on.

That’s why it’s important to have written contingency plans for the worst-case scenarios. While worst-case scenarios don’t always happen, having written contingency plans will give you an idea of what to do when a problem strikes.

For example, if you anticipate that the majority of your users aren’t tech-savvy and that they don’t know how to use Google Hangouts, write down steps as to how you can guide them in navigating the software. Enumerate how you can assist them in terms of joining the video call, sharing their screen, and unmuting themselves during the remote usability test.

4. Get to know your users and make them feel comfortable

Remote usability testing isn’t solely about giving users several tasks to do and asking them questions along the way. Rather, remote usability testing is also about establishing rapport—getting to know your users and making them feel comfortable.

Once you’ve established rapport with your users, they’ll feel more open to sharing their thoughts with you.

An effective way to establish rapport with your users is to ask them one question at the start of the remote usability test—How are you? As a stretch goal, you can also make the question more specific by anchoring it on a certain aspect of their life. For example, if your user is a small business owner, you can ask, “How’s your business so far?” Similarly, if you know your user has just climbed a mountain, you can say, “I saw that you recently climbed a mountain. How was it?” In the middle of the remote usability test, you can also ask your users how they’re finding the remote usability test so far and whether they have any questions.

Once you have established rapport with your users, they’ll feel more open to sharing their thoughts with you. On the other hand, you will obtain better feedback as to how you can improve your digital product. It’s a win-win for everybody.

5. Ask probing questions to get a deeper understanding of the user’s thoughts

When the user doesn’t understand a part of the interface or when they are unable to complete a task, knowing where the user got confused isn’t enough.

Instead, it’s equally important to know the why—what made the user behave this way, and what thoughts contributed to this behavior? To get a deeper understanding of the user’s thoughts, try asking any of the following probing questions:

  • What makes you think this way?
  • What did you expect to see when you performed this action?
  • What’s the importance of doing this action?
  • What was your initial understanding of this concept?

Pro tip: It’s best not to ask these questions while the user is accomplishing the set of tasks, as this tends to interrupt his or her train of thought. Instead, leave some time at the end of the remote usability test to go over the probing questions you have.

Bonus Tip: Have people from different teams observe the remote usability test

In Rocket Surgery Made Easy, Steve Krug advocated for making usability testing a spectator sport. This means having people from different parts of the organization attend the usability tests.

What’s helpful about this is that the entire group benefits by having a more profound understanding of the customer, and an opportunity to compare observations after the testing. More than that, encouraging people to attend usability tests keeps them involved in the design process—that’s because they are aware of the user’s pain points and they can influence the design and the content.

Author avatar
Nick Toce
Nick is the Founder and Creative Director at Helm & Hue. Reach him at or message him on LinkedIn