Best Practices for Usability Testing In UX Design

Creative Cloud

Here’s the situation: you’ve created what you think is a fabulous product. You’ve invested tons of money in designing and building it, as well as marketing and selling it, but you’re not getting the results you had hoped for. Did you neglect to check if there were any usability issues?

If a user is unable to complete a desired task, then they’re not going to stick around and your product is not going to be successful—no matter how good it looks.

“These days it’s pretty easy to make new products—there are a lot of frameworks and tools out there—but it’s still really hard to make a great product, a product that people can understand and use, a product that makes people feel good,” said Aaron Walter, VP of R&D at MailChimp and author of the book Designing For Emotion.

“That’s so hard to come by and it’s definitely a competitive advantage if you can do it,” he added.

This is where usability testing (or user testing, as it is often called) comes into play.

What is usability testing?

Usability testing involves testing and monitoring user behavior as the user attempts to work through and complete a desired task. It’s a small step that is not to be overlooked and can save you a lot of time, money and embarrassment in the long run.


While there are a number of factors that go into usability testing, it can be broken down into a few major steps:

  1. Identify what needs to be tested and why (a new product, feature, etc.)
  2. Identify the correct audience (your desired customer)
  3. Create a list of tasks that the user will have to go through
  4. Recruit the right test users
  5. Involve the right stakeholders
  6. Apply what you’ve learned

Identifying the perfect recruit

Your ideal test user is the person who will actually be using your product.

“There are systems out there like, which is a great service, but you’re basically hiring people who aren’t necessarily your customers to pretend that they’re your customers,” Walter said. “Choosing someone who is actually your customer, who is actually likely to use this part of your product, is ideal so they’re not manufacturing their motivations.”

How many people should you test?

“You don’t need a huge sample size,” Walter said. “Somewhere between three and five will help you understand what the problems and patterns are.”

He points to Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, who is also known for recommending small numbers because it’s what people have time for.

“Being able to fit this into your schedule is more important than having some huge sample size,” Walter said.

Design the test

Create the workflow that the test users will work through and make your objectives clear. You want to observe the range of errors or challenges that the user experiences.

Walter recommends asking them to use what’s called talk (or think) aloud protocol, encouraging the user to talk through their experiences and frustrations.

“When they’re speaking aloud you can get into their head a little more easily and understand where they’re getting confused,” he said. “It can help you understand things like maybe this language isn’t very clear here. Maybe the navigation isn’t organized very well. Maybe the primary call to action on the page is not as apparent as we thought it was.”

Recording the process through an app like Silverback can also give you something to refer back to and identify points where the users struggled.

Who should be involved?

Anyone that plays a role in how fast and how well that problem is addressed should be involved. These stakeholders could include the executive team, major decision makers, agency representatives and lead developers and designers.

Why the design team, or a representative of the design team, needs to be involved in usability testing

“You want the people that are designing and building the software to squirm in their seat as they watch the customer struggle and get confused because if they feel that pain and discomfort, they’re going to run straight back to their desk to fix it,” Walter said.

If someone is merely relaying information back to the design team, a lot can get lost in translation.

“It’s best to spend a few bucks, buy some lunch and invite those stakeholders to come eat and watch these usability tests happen live, or watch the videos—that often can work really well too.”

Conduct a quick post mortem

A brief chat with the test users after can sometimes expose a few extra things, but primarily the bulk of the learning happens by watching the behavior.

A few more things to keep in mind

Be sure to conduct extensive QA testing before doing any usability testing or else you could end up wasting a bunch of people’s time, including your own.

It’s also important to recognize the role human emotions play in testing, using it to both acknowledge your users and fuel your problem solving.

“You watch customers that get super frustrated and lost and they start to feel dumb, which is why it’s really important to tell them at the beginning that we’re testing the software, not you. They feel like there is a spotlight on them and if they can’t figure something out then embarrassment is heightened, frustration is heightened,” Walter said. “Generally I see that as a good thing especially if you have stakeholders watching that usability test.”

And finally, don’t lose sight of what usability testing is all about.

“A lot of assumptions are made in the design process of how people will use it, but there’s no hypothesis of where people are going to fall apart,” Walter said. “[Usability testing] is mainly just getting a first look at how people actually use this thing you’ve designed in the real world.”

The whole point is to ensure you’re releasing the best product possible into the world, one that not only meets the objective, but is also something you as a designer can be proud of.

How To Tackle The Ultimate UX Challenge: Legacy Systems

Creative Cloud

This piece was originally published on Fast Co. Read the original article here.

Designers love a blank canvas. The reason is obvious: They enjoy coming up with an original idea and seeing it through to completion. However, the shiny new object isn’t the biggest UX challenge. For designers who love to geek out on solving sticky problems, redesigning an existing system is the ultimate puzzle.

Problems with legacy systems—those that have been around for a long time, perhaps before user interface design was even a consideration—go way beyond the user experience. Redesigning a legacy app is like an archeological dig, forcing a designer to push the limits of creativity within very specific boundaries—respecting what exists while imagining what can be. 


Designers who are successful at this are willing to get elbow-deep in the culture of an opinionated engineering team that has a deep history with the product and its business goals. Users of legacy systems have a culture too, complete with strong attachments to specific functions and design elements. They may not view an effort to simplify the system as a good thing, so each change has to be weighed against the users’ willingness to let a function or element go.

To some designers, such a situation might sound like a few months of insomnia waiting to happen. But to designers who like to work with people more than theories, and with real problems more than diary studies, these constraints create a perfect set of exciting problems to solve.

Redesigning legacy systems without making enemies in engineering and creating chaos among customers isn’t easy. Change never is. To get good results, a designer needs a set of skills that are both wide and deep, and no designer who is new to modernizing systems will come to the table fully prepared. 


Start by thinking about how the software has been used before. A deep understanding of the existing user experience is necessary to make good decisions about which aspects of modern software design should be incorporated. The marriage of the old and new will create the foundation for a grand vision.

But don’t overwhelm users with that big plan. They’re already invested in the existing design, accustomed to clicking here and scrolling there, and they will not be pleased if they have to learn drastic new ways to do their work. That’s understandable. So while you have to be committed to your vision, you shouldn’t display it all at once. Ease changes into the system and see what happens. 

When we recently set out to modernize our own Acrobat software, we had to rethink more than just the interface; we wanted to create a connected ecosystem of products and services that spanned desktop and devices. That was ambitious, so we chose three areas on which to focus first: 1.) a visual refresh that 2.) felt natural and easy to use on a touchscreen, and 3.) fully leveraged cloud services. None of those three efforts was trivial or easy, but we had the human and technical resources to handle them all at once. A design team with fewer resources might take a more phased approach, such as working first on the redesign and touchscreen efforts while saving more challenging technical elements for a second phase. There is no single correct approach, of course; choices will be made based on corporate strategy, customer needs, and design and engineering capabilities. 


The people who use your legacy system every day will have valuable insights. If you can include them in the process by capturing their feedback, you’ll get more than their ideas—you’ll get their buy-in.


People don’t like change, so sometimes a designer will need thick skin to be able to listen and then separate the tone from the content. A comment like “that font is ugly” may sound useless, but understanding that the user means “that font is hard to read” makes it useful. When a complaint about a feature is valid and it can be changed easily, change it right away. You’ll kill two birds with one stone: knock something of the “to-do” list and demonstrate to users that the modernization project is meant to serve their needs. The give and take is part of the process.

At the same time, the engineering team needs to be on board throughout the process. They’re the ones who are going to transform the vision into reality, so their concerns have to be addressed at every stage. If you hear the word “no,” and maybe even the phrase “can’t be done,” ask why and work through it. You have to trust the engineers, and they have to trust you.

When I was looking for examples of how other design teams have built trust, I came across this article about a Citrix initiative. When Citrix decided to use sleek, user-friendly interfaces to differentiate itself from competitors, the company created the role of VP of Product Design and started working on internal projects. Instead of taking a strategic approach that would force design overhauls on departments that might not understand the value of a better user experience, Citrix worked with any department that was willing. Its pilot project was for the customer education department, and the results were so successful that other departments raised their hands. Trust was established through example, and now Citrix’s design team works with cross-functional groups to meet critical business objectives.


Modernization projects involve many groups of people. To keep them pointing in the same direction, a designer needs to embrace the role of leader. That takes more than patience and a willingness to learn; it takes a positive energy.


Put that energy into every aspect of the work: your commitment to your vision, your relationships with users and engineers, and your willingness to bring people along slowly. This is what it takes to gain people’s trust. And once you have that trust, you can keep it by breaking your vision into small pieces that people can appreciate. Bringing people along slowly is a strategic approach that needs to be built in from the start and consistently followed until the end.


Like any project, modernizing an existing system is going to hit some potholes. Don’t let the challenges discourage you; change is possible. You just have to be willing to continually push for the best user experience. Trust your vision, and you’re sure to succeed.

Secrets to Ski Action Photography from the Slopes

Creative Cloud

We took to the slopes to find out more behind Adobe Stock Contributor Roberto Caucino’s energetic and action-packed ski photography to find out how he captured it. Read on to go behind the scenes on one of Caucino’s ski shoots.

Skier performs a high speed turn on a ski slope. From the ski tip point of view. Sunny winter day. Concepts: vacation, speed, fun.


I always had two passions: alpine skiing and photography. As a boy, I won some ski races in the Italian Alps, but I soon realized that I was not good enough to compete internationally. So I dedicated myself to photography, especially the magnificent mountain scenery and its fantastic winter sports. But I never forgot the excitement you feel when you get down fast on a light blanket of snow; it’s like magic. I wanted to freeze in a photograph this mood, photographing the skier more realistically, from skis. It’s a difficult task. In the past it was quite impossible; a SLR camera was too heavy, and small compact cameras do not ensure a good quality. There was also the problem of how to fix the camera firmly to the ski without damaging the camera and the skis themselves. With the release of action-cams these problems have been solved.

Freerider skier moving down in snow powder; italian alps.


Well, the technique is quite simple. Take a GoPro and a suction cup, attach it to the tip of the ski and start taking a batch of photos with the intervalometer of the camera: you will get a nice amount of good self-portrait photos where you can choose the perfect one.

Skiing: male skier in powder snow. Italian Alps, Europe.


The composition of this image is clean and essential (the golden rule for all my photographic works), only a few simple lines (snow/sky, skier/skis), one impersonal subject (due to the ski goggles), flat primary colors (full saturated red and blue) and plain shining white snow. The original jpg file has been just slightly modified in Photoshop CC: fixed the exposition and contrast, deleted some objects in background and enlarged the copy-space on the right using the Content-Aware Fill.



If you want to try this, here are some tips:

  • The model should be a good skier: it’s important to be able to turn on the ski run at high speed.
  • Remember to connect the camera to the ski boot with a small safety rope: the suction cup may come off.
  • Set the intervalometer to shoot a photo every 0.5/1 sec.
  • Choose a flat, not too steep slope and go down fast with large smooth curves.
  • Be ready to work early in the morning as soon as the ski resorts open: the ski runs will be still empty and all for you.

In the same way, it’s possible to shoot video footage; here you can see an example from my Adobe Stock video portfolio:

A big thanks to Roberto for sharing his story with us. You can find more of his beautiful images in his Adobe Stock portfolio.

7 UX Design Trends to Watch Out For in 2016

Creative Cloud

This was originally published on Website Magazine

UX design took center stage in 2015. Innovations like wearable technology and virtual reality drove designers into new realms, opening up doors that were previously not possible and in many cases not even imaginable.

The narrative on the human experience and how we interact with technology, interfaces and brands shifted further. People began to expect experiences that felt more personal and authentic, and they wanted designs to be so good that no matter the intended objective, the transaction was seamless.

So where does it go from here? We caught up with several UX experts to ask them about their predictions on where UX design is heading in 2016.

Here’s what they said:

TREND # 1: UX Design Moves Off The Screen

“Digital is moving from something we use inside of screens and devices to something that lives in the everyday objects around us, and the places we move through. User experiences will play out across a bigger, messier ecosystem. Designing for this new reality will require thinking more broadly, considering how people touch a service across many points. We saw the rise of mobile shatter desktop conventions—this will be an even bigger transformation. In 2016, UX designers will have the chance to establish the interactions that make up this new world of digital products and connected places.”

~Larry Johnson, Executive Strategy Director at Odopod

TREND # 2: Anticipatory Design to Become More Common

“Anticipatory Design is the ability to predictively design and serve up the best experience possible. We’re at a point now where ​we as designers can create and give users what they want before they even know they want it. This plays a huge role when users are having experiences that span context and medium. I believe we’ll see more of these anticipatory and ambient experiences in the coming future.”

~ Joe Johnston, VP, Experience Innovation at Universal Mind

TREND # 3: Responsive Design Expands to Include Reactions to User Behavior

“In the coming year and beyond, I’m anticipating a shift in what we think of when we say responsive design. That paradigm still largely refers to a site adapting to width and size with media queries, but I hope to see (and attempt) some leaps in how user behavior will literally trigger or inform responsiveness. The Grid boasts the ability to adapt presentation to content with AI, and that sounds intriguing and awesome. But I’m thinking of intuition technology that “learns” a user based on their behavior on the site, the same way some apps do, and then immediately customizes itself using that information. Think A/B testing on speed. How a user is interacting with the content thus far, what they’ve clicked on and how quickly, where they’re hesitating, their scroll speed, and even what they hover over but choose *not* to click on will modify the site itself. It will constantly be responding to what it’s learned, essentially, and present different content or even change the structure altogether in an effort to engage that user longer.”

~Sarah Huny Young, Creative Director at SDCA

TREND # 4: The Development of Niche Specialties and Formal UX Design Education Programs

“UX is a vastly growing field, both in research and application. In 2016, we will start to see that growth fragment into subspecialties including but not limited to web, mobile, product development, virtual and physical environments. As the traditional “web” fades away, UX professionals will find themselves in niche situations and will gravitate towards unique and divergent design practices that are laser focused on a specific user context. User Experience Design will continue to take its place as the heart of modern business and commerce, and because of this, we will see a shift in the academic community from HCI and Interaction Design to more focused UX curriculums. As of now, most UX professionals did not go to school for their trade and I believe this year we’ll start to see an emergence of PhD programs in User Experience Design.”

~Ron Edelen, Partner + Chief Creative Director, Myjive

TREND # 5: An Increase in Voice Recognition and Gesture-Based Design

“2016 is going to be another exciting year for the progression of User Experience.  UX will progress not only visually but voice recognition technology will also start to emerge as a more accessible input.  Visually with minimal design staying put, designers will continue to explore depth and layer for differentiation.  As touch becomes more standard, we will continue to see not only a rise in the use of gestures, but also consistency in gestures across apps, devices and platforms.”

~Dave Benton, Founder/Creative Director at Metajive

TREND # 6: UX Designers and Entire Organizations Align

“I hope to see a greater focus on getting entire organizations to be more user-focused, and getting everyone aligned on doing the right thing for the user. User Experience is not the sole responsibility of designers, but rather of everyone responsible for building and shipping quality products. Until we gain this alignment across all of our organizations, we cannot effectively evolve the practice of User Experience Design.”

~Catriona Cornett, Director of Product Design at SalesforceIQ

Trend # 7: Designing for the Real World

As customers interact with applications at a time, location, and device of their choosing, it will become increasingly important to incorporate real-world context. Designing in the abstract will only result in the learning happening later, when the application is available to customers, at which point it can be costly and disruptive to make adjustments.

Design tools can play an important role here in a few ways: helping bring in real-world data into the visual and interaction design phases; providing device-specific design-time previews; or enabling simulation of on-device inputs such as user location, so that the designer can get ever-closer to reality without ever leaving their design tool of choice.

~Andrew Shorten, Director of Product Management at Adobe

Where do you think UX Design is heading? Let us know in the comments below.