Are user testing or usability auditing better? Which technique to use? These questions are probably asked by many people related to the UX industry or interested in optimizing their products.
When to use usability audits for the best results?
Perhaps the most important situation is when the product has major, fundamental flaws in the design. In such a system, tests are a simple waste of money, because users will be the first to pay attention to the irregularities that would be detected by the audit. Moreover, they can obscure other problems, not so obvious to find, that would not have been possible to notice without consulting customers. Many opinions and articles regarding audits, but also issues related to UX as such, discuss these issues from the perspective of large websites or applications that have had their first contact with UX a long time ago. Unfortunately, the reality, at least on the Polish market, is very often that the clients are small companies with low awareness and knowledge related to usability design, whose products were created a few years ago at their own expense. In such conditions, an audit can be the only salvation. Let’s face it, it is also often the case that the customer simply cannot afford user tests, a solution that is undoubtedly more expensive than an audit. Performing an audit may not be ideal then, but it is certainly better than passivity. Another similar case is a project with a short lead time. It should also not be assumed that the websites or applications of big players on the market are devoid of basic problems. The best examples here are the well-known Polish e-commerce sites, where you can find many seemingly obvious errors. Therefore, it is good practice to simply use an audit as the first step in any comprehensive optimization project. It then helps to define the spectrum of actions needed, set priorities, select the most important issues for testing, and make sure that there are no critical obstacles on the website.
Usability tests allow you to thoroughly understand the target group of the product
Usability testing works best in situations where there is a need to thoroughly understand users and their needs. This is especially important when the website or application is dedicated to a specific group of people. Also, before major product changes, it is worth checking whether the proposed changes will be well received and achieve the planned effect. What’s more, user tests can also help determine what is missing from the offer and in which direction the website should go. From this perspective, it can be said that this method is the overall support of the business model and marketing. However, UX tests should not be confused with focus groups. Focus groups check what people think about a given solution and discover their feelings, preferences and attitudes through discussion.
Usability testing verifies how users actually use the product through interaction tasks, which makes it an excellent tool for detecting errors and problems in products that meet general design and UX standards. As mentioned before, the tests are especially effective in multi-stage optimization projects in order to control potential problems detected in the audit. However, it should be remembered that this method is much more time-consuming and more expensive than audits, which unfortunately excludes it from some projects.
So what to choose?
A well-performed usability audit is undeniably a very useful tool that can save a project from serious problems. It should not be used instead of user tests, as they are a separate, complementary method. And therefore, it is also irreplaceable. Is user testing better than usability audit? This is a perverse question. The answer is: user testing is no better than expert analysis, it’s just different.