Weeks spent preparing the prototype, procuring users, and developing a Usability Test Plan have culminated in a moment of truth: Your in charge of conducting your first formal Usability Test. You'll be sitting down with actual users, recording their every reaction to your shiny new application and coming back to the client with user-oriented recommendations that will make this the best app ever. Now what?

How do you work the room on test day?

Preparation gets you halfway there:

  • Reserve a Test Location - Make sure you reserve a testing facility. It doesn't have to be fancy (think limited distractions).
  • Reach out to Users - Contact the users as far in advance as possible and send out a reminder one or two days before the test. Be sure to provide users with directions to the location, where they should park, and how they should check in with when they get there.
  • Visit Testing Facility - Conduct a site visit to the testing facility, whether it's a conference room or formal Usability lab. Do you have a good setup location? Wi-Fi?
  • Dry Run Scenerios - Dry run the scenarios against the test environment. Do they flow? Catch snags early.
  • Test your Equpment - Test all your equipment the day before. You don't want to discover they disabled the wireless card on your testing laptop as a user walks in.

The big day:

  • Arrive Early - Arrive at least an hour early. You don't want to be rushed on test day.
  • Test your Equipment Again - Double-check your equipment and connections to the test environment. Is your testing software configured correctly?
  • Remove Distractions - Remove as much clutter/distractions from the test room as possible - move the chairs out of the way and take things off the tables.
  • Take a Minute to Relax - Wait for your first user!

During the test:

  • You're not Testing the User - Once the user arrives make them feel comfortable. You want them to understand that they aren't being tested – the application is being tested.
  • Video Release - Make sure the user is OK with being recorded. Have the them complete formal release forms, if needed.
  • Let the User Talk - Ask the user to talk out loud as much as they feel comfortable – ask them to talk about what they are looking for on the screen, what they don't see that they are expecting, what they do see.
  • Keep your Mouth Shut - When a user is attempting to complete a scenarios, keep your mouth shut. Try not to help them through scenarios. There will be times when the user gets frustrated, but don't jump right in. If you think they're about to walk out of the room in frustration - step in and either guide them in the right direction, or move on to the next scenario.
  • Keep the Flow - If users ask questions or have comments that aren't related to the current scenario, have them wait until after the test is over and set aside a few minutes at the end of the test for open discussion.

There's no substitue for experience, but hopefully these tips help you work the room during your next Usability test.