Validating your concepts

User vs. Usability Testing

We often discuss the benefits of rapid app development and prototyping. How and when you prototype, along with how and when you test in general are important aspects of validating and building your apps.


Two kinds of testing you can use to support your efforts are User Testing and Usability Testing. Both types are often referenced together, but each has a different goal and purpose. When you employ them in your process differs.

You should conduct user testing early to help identify a main problem or opportunity for improvement. Before you start to build anything, user testing reveals if people actually need the solution you have in mind. Why waste time and resources building something if it doesn’t provide a needed solution and no one uses it because of that?

User testing helps you find your direction and purpose.

Photo by  Jamie Street  on  Unsplash

You use this kind of testing to learn more about context and needs. It can help you find the problems you’ll be solving. The insights gained from user testing can help give you direction towards a solution and a use case to build your app around.

Surveys, interviews, and observations are all useful tools to ask questions and test concepts with users. We could give separate sessions around each of those methods, but for this, we’re just be reviewing this kind of testing at a high level. The questions you ask here can help when scoping and researching a project before you start building.

You can use those findings to start building personas, user journeys, and start recognizing pain points and opportunities you can address. From there, you can start building and testing solutions with your users.

Usability testing reveals if users are able to use what you’ve created to help solve your problem effectively.

Usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users. Typically, during a test, participants will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems, collect qualitative and quantitative data and determine the participant’s satisfaction with the product.

This kind of testing can help you learns things like if users can find a particular page or feature, if they can understand a component’s use, or if a structure fits their mental model (a person’s though processes, perceptions, and behaviors).

Usability testing provides concept validation.

“A group of people brainstorming over a laptop and sheets of paper” by  Štefan Štefančík  on  Unsplash

“A group of people brainstorming over a laptop and sheets of paper” by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Sometimes you’ll hear usability testing confused with quality assurance — QA — testing. QA testing helps make sure everything you’ve designed and built functions and appears as you intended. Usability testing reveals whether the way you built something responds well to users.

The rapid prototyping possible with Mendix lets you get a version of your app ready to put in front of users and have them test it. You can see how quickly and easily they can perform tasks and help you find parts to change or improve. As with methods of user testing, those for usability merit their own posts, but for this, we’re just be reviewing this kind of testing at a high level.

Though it’s best to be present and observe users for this kind of testing, if circumstances don’t allow you to be with users you can also use the feedback component built into all Mendix apps by default to receive information and feedback from users.

After you push your app live, the feedback module is an open channel for you to receive input from users and find ways to return to and improve your app for future iterations or troubleshoot any issues that might arise. It doesn’t replace usability testing but can help support your testing efforts and allow you to get feedback when you might be strapped for resources.

Whether you’re early in your process and looking for validation, iterating on the design and build of your app, or looking for areas of improvement after you release it, the information you can gather from user and usability testing can help inform your sprints, write your user stories, and prioritize your efforts.

You can’t design successful user experiences without involving your users. Encouraging user-centric processes, like user and usability testing, engages them in your work and helps you build those successful experiences that meet their needs.

Nick Di Stefano