Usability testing plan: The 11-step process for better results

Once upon a time, you created a beautiful website. 

It was your baby, your first serious project, with all kinds of stunning graphic elements.

Naturally, what people thought of it made you a nervous wreck. 

Unfortunately, their reaction to your creation was this: 

Source: Giphy

Not because it didn’t look great. It did. And people clicked on it, true. 

But they immediately left. Mostly because you didn’t count one thing: user experience (UX)

In your haste to impress, you forgot to make the site usable. But it’s not your fault. You didn’t know that usability testing plans existed. 

Now, you’re older, wiser. You understand that every usability testing starts with a well-thought-out plan. 

But what exactly is a usability testing plan? How does it help you? And how can you get some? 

Don’t worry; we’ve thought of everything. In this article, you’ll discover why it’s important to have a plan. And the best practices for creating one from scratch. 😉

Table of contents

What is a usability testing plan?

A usability testing plan is a document with all the steps and crucial details you’ll use when starting your usability testing. 

It’s a framework for your research, with objectives and milestones. It outlines the desired outcomes for each step, similar to a roadmap. The purpose is to get from point A to point B. 

Think of it as a treasure hunt, sorta. The only difference is that a usability test plan has slightly more detailed steps. But the point is that you have to follow some steps (or clues) to get to the end goal (X marks the spot). 

For example, you do your research from now till Monday. Then, till Friday, you have time to assign roles. And so on. 

But what’s the objective? 

In general, you conduct usability testing plans to test your product. You give it to real users, aka your target audience. 

They see if there are any usability problems with your product. Then, you can fix them before you launch it. 

The best part? You can pretend you’re a mad scientist that observes how people behave for your secret experiment. Put on a lab coat and take a note pad because it’s a great day for science. 

Of course, a plan makes the best use of your research. With it, you keep track of all events and everyone stays on the same page. 

It includes details such as the goals of the research, namely, what are you trying to achieve? Or who participates in the project? 

Buuut, we’ll talk about these aspects in the next section. 

What should a usability testing plan include?

A burger has many ingredients. The buns, the insides (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, etc.), and the meat. 

All work together to give the whole burger its flavor. And make a delicious combination. 

Source: Giphy

Similarly, your usability testing needs to be good enough to eat. But be careful; the ingredients are not edible.  

Let’s look at them: 

  • The goal: Every plan starts with goals. A good rule of thumb is to have one or three objectives, as more just complicates things. 

So, ask yourself why you’re doing the research. What do you want to achieve with a user testing plan? Remember to focus on the most important details. 

  • Test participants (aka, guinea pigs): An experiment is incomplete without the lab rats. 🧪 You’ll have to think about the number of recruits you need for your test. 

One more thing you need to do is mention all those involved in the research for your plan. Add their roles and contact information, such as their work email, phone number, etc. 

And don’t forget about your stakeholders. Keeping them in one place eases communication and shows who’s responsible for what. 

  • Research methods: Think about the user testing method and recruit participants accordingly. 

For example, let’s say you’re low on time. Then, you might wanna try guerrilla testing which means going on the front and asking people to quickly test your product. 

For more in-depth analysis, you might need a special place for your test. 

In a nutshell, try to find the one that fits your goals the best. 

  • Result analysis: Research yields data. If you don’t use that data, your plan is all for nothing. 

Think of how you’re going to derive results from the research. And the type of data you need — qualitative or quantitative? 

Qualitative data refers to observational findings, aka what motivates people to take that action. Or how they feel while navigating your site, for example. 

On the other hand, quantitative data gathers info from metrics and focuses on numbers. Think of stuff like how long it took someone to complete a task. 

  • Outcomes and next steps: At the end of your plans, think of the fine details, like what happens next. And how the results influence your future actions. 

Keep it short, sweet, and informative. Try to cram all the info above into one page. But remember: include only the most essential details.

No one wants to read a text filled with useless information. 

But I still don’t see the importance…” 

You’ll see it in the next section. 

Why is it important to create a usability testing plan?

Without a usability testing plan, you’re UX testing like a mole. Blindly. 

And that’s a thing you definitely don’t want. 

However, you’d be surprised to know that many overlook this step. They end up with a testing process that’s not in tune with their objectives.

You can be different. You are the Chosen One that conducts usability testing studies that begin with a plan. And save more time, money, and energy. 

It’s like aligning your chakras to keep everyone on the same page. 

Plus, you don’t need a grand plan for usability testing. At the end of the day, the length of it highly depends on your needs. For example, maybe you just need to test a few features, not just the whole product. 

But this is just the beginning of the advantages. Let this table show you the benefits. We can talk about them afterward. 

A graph showing the key benefits of usability testing.
You know what they say … Test it before they detest it! What, that’s not a common saying?

1. It improves the usability testing process

Obviously!” you might think. But for some, it’s not that clear.

They prefer to dive head-first into the usability testing process without any backup or plan. As a result, they might not get the desired results.

But you can be different. You’ve already seen how a well-planned test gives you the best results. 

So, why not give it a try? Set your goals. Your metrics. And choose a testing method. 

It’s easier than you might think.

2. It creates a clear usability testing roadmap

Let’s imagine this. You want to draw your favorite character from a movie.

You sketch it with their picture in front of you and take time to study it. To outline all the defining features. 

But when you don’t have a reference? It won’t look as accurate.

Don’t worry; Bob Ross believes in you…

Source: Giphy

So, don’t create something based on a memory. You might accidentally nail the test, but it’s best to have a clear outline of it.

A roadmap guides the process. 

It makes it easier for other people to understand what the steps are. And you keep everyone on the same page. 

3. It helps you identify issues early on

Errors. Issues. Bugs.

Tired of getting those? Then, invest in a usability testing plan. Doing so will help you find and get rid of these nasty critters. Moreover, it’ll answer some of your UX questions before the product launch. 

And you know what else? A plan anticipates any problems. You don’t have to work overtime AFTER the launch to fix bugs. 

You can work on issues in advance, which is less costly for you. And waaaay easier to handle. 


Theory: over! Now, are you ready to start drafting your first usability testing plan? 

What are the steps in creating a usability testing plan?

So, you want to create your usability testing plan. 

Awesome! You made a very good decision. And you came to the right place. Here’s the recipe for a successful usability testing plan.

A graph showing how to create a usability testing plan in eleven steps.
The famous usability testing plan: A blueprint for not making your users cry.

Let’s study them closer. 🔍

1. Define goals and objectives

To begin your experiment, you need to think like a scientist. Imagine you’re one of the MythBusters. And you’re trying to, well, bust myths.

But you can’t just experiment for the sake of experimenting. Any good test has a goal and answers a specific question you have. Or test a hypothesis.  

Ask yourself, “What do I expect to gain from it?” The results will surprise you!

Source: Giphy

Goals are important because they dictate the direction of your analysis. Knowing what they are will yield actionable insights that’ll help you craft wonderful products. But it also helps you make better business decisions. 

The only problem is you don’t know what a good goal for a usability test is. 

We’ve come up with some questions that might give you some ideas: 

  • How many people do I need?
  • Can users easily spot the menu?
  • Is it easy to reach that particular page?
  • How will I analyze the findings? 

2. Determine the participants

Hmmm… 🤔

Who should you pick for your experiment? And most importantly, how will you recruit them?

You can’t just randomly select a group of people, put them all in a circle, and go ‘duck, duck, goose’ on them. 

To find the right users, start with creating personas. 

These are fictional profiles for users, representative of the audience you want to attract. 

In them, you can include details such as job title, age, industry, etc. 

What’s important to remember is that you need to build these profiles for your intended users. Identify the characteristics and behaviors of the people you want to test your product with. 

It’ll greatly help your recruitment efforts. Otherwise, you risk engaging the wrong participants. 

Just think of the people who will use your product. And about the number of participants. 

You should also think about focusing on specific user behaviors related to the product. And about having a diverse pool of candidates. People should come from different backgrounds so you can get the best data, including gender, sex, age, and ethnicity. 

Invite them to the test via email, announcements, etc. 

3. Choose your usability testing method

All of us know Al. The working-class dad with his wife, Peggy. And their kids. It’s a very old show, but still iconic.

But it’s not about the TV show. It’s about the intro’s song. C’mon, let’s hum it together. 

Love and marriage, love and marriage,

Go together like a horse and carriage.

The conclusion is, every good thing comes in pairs. Where are we going with this? That these usability testing methods have a match. 

Like love and marriage, there are three types of usability testing methods, each with its own pair. For example, there’s in-person and remote testing. 

One can’t exist without the other. 

But let’s get to know these methods better: 

  • Quantitative or qualitative

Al’s kids are different from each other. They have unique personalities and hobbies that endear them to us. 

Quantitative and qualitative data are also two different things.

  1. Quantitative data gathers info from numbers and metrics. It helps you know how your product performs. 

For example, what percentage of the focus group misclicked on a button? 

You use quantitative research when you want to measure something you can express in numbers. 

Like when you calculate a city’s demographics and want to know how many people live there. 

  1. Qualitative data answers why the users act that way. Imagine you’re an observer on National Geographic. But instead of animals, you study people. It helps you get inside their head. 

Qualitative research involves non-numerical data such as color, flavor, feelings. 

For instance, you can determine why a city’s population is happy.

  • In-person or remote

If you had Al as a participant, you’d most likely invite him to a remote usability test. But what does it mean? 

In-person gives you more control over the testing environment. You can also collect more in-depth feedback. You can read people’s body language and facial expressions. 

In-person is suitable if you really want to dive into a person’s psyche. And if you have resources. It allows you to ask them questions or guide them through the tasks so you get the most accurate results. 

Remote testing is more convenient and flexible. It puts people at ease since they’re in their natural environment. And it spares you much hassle. 

Besides, people are more willing to participate, so recruiting them is easier. It doesn’t involve too much effort on their part. Or yours, for that matter. Tests are shorter and you can get the insights you need faster. 

  • Moderated or unmoderated

You can have someone like Peggy moderating the test. Or not. It’s up to you. 

Moderated testing is about having a real person in charge of the test. The role of a moderator is to help users complete the tasks. Or answer follow-up questions. 

While it requires more planning, moderated testing is great for dynamic chats. You can ask (or answer) questions in real time. And work more directly with your guinea pigs. 

An unmoderated testing session has no rules. You leave the testers to use the product at their own pace. This convenience results in a quicker turnaround time. And more quantitative data. 

It’s a less time-consuming, cheaper, and flexible testing method. It also has a high reusability value. If you want to send the same test to other candidates, it’s way easier than in a moderated environment. 

4. Pick testing tools and equipment

A carpenter needs tools to build houses. Without them, they’re only going to look at the timber. And shrug their shoulders. 

Like carpenters, your usability testing tools need the right equipment. 

Why? Because it makes your life easier. And uncover unnoticed problems more easily. 

First of all, think of the devices you’re going to use. Is it desktop or mobile? Do you want to test on laptops or tablets? 

Oh, and don’t forget about screen resolutions, browsers, operating systems, etc.

Some usability testing tools include Hotjar, UserTesting, and Crazy Egg. 

However, not all tools should be usability testing–related. They can also include software for note-takers (Notion). Video conferencing tools (Zoom). And even feedback platforms. 

Wait—feedback platforms? Why would you need one in this case? Well, you need it because it helps you collect feedback in a single place. It’s easier to have a single tool for comments than engage in long email threads. Which, to be honest, you quickly lose track of.

For example, there’s A simple feedback tool that enables you to collaborate with your peers effectively.

Here’s how to use it: sign up for an account! You can do so on our homepage. Just check the top right corner. 

Screenshot of the homepage emphasizing the 'Sign Up' button where users can register for a free account.

Done? Cool. 

Now, upload your content (videos, PDFs, images, etc.). Simply drag and drop it. Paste the URL. Or upload it from your library. 

Then, open the document! 

Invite your testers. And they can easily drop a comment with one click. 

User interface of showing an active comment box, indicating where users can input their feedback directly on the platform.
Enter your wisdom here, or just vent… we don’t judge.

Hooray! It’s simply a better way to collaborate. And the best part? 

People can leave comments wherever they want. Pixel-perfect, even. Then, all you need to do is share your content for review.

Sign up today for a free 30-day trial. You know you want to. 😉

5. Set your sample size

How many participants do you need? Is it five? 10? 50? 100? Place your order! 

This is an important step in every usability testing plan. It highly depends on the method you’ve chosen. 

For example, guerrilla testing is a low-cost and quick method of collecting user feedback. It involves you going to random people on the street. And asking them to use your product. 

It’s suitable for six to 12 participants. Guerrilla testing is quick, so you can ask a few questions to find your answers.

You can’t exactly “go big” with this one. But it’s highly effective if you need a quick way to gather feedback. 

For more in-depth feedback, you might need more people. For example, let’s talk about the eye tracking method. It requires almost 40 people to get a stable heatmap. 

There is, however, a golden rule of thumb. 

The reputable Nielsen Norman Group recommends 5 people per testing, no matter what the method is. They say it yields the best results. And you can run as many small tests as you can afford. 

6. Recruit the participants

You’re walking down the street. And you see a puppy in a cardboard box. 

You lean over to look at it. The puppy seems really excited to see you. And you just want to take it home. 

But unlike a puppy, you can’t pick anyone for your usability testing. 

You need to find participants who represent your target audience. And no cheating! They shouldn’t be your teammates, but people from outside your company. 

Remember the personas we mentioned earlier. Your test subjects should fit these profiles. You want these people to like your products, so recruit people that match the description you set best. 

So, where can you recruit them? You can’t just put a bounty on their heads like in the Old West!

You can: 

  • Work with a recruiter: Recruiting companies can find and schedule the necessary people for your test. Just give them the details. They’ll take care of everything.
  • Recruit on social media: You can use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to post about your intentions. Craft an interesting post with your needs. And encourage people to sign up. 
  • Attend industry events and conferences: What better way to connect with like-minded people than a conference? Here, you can meet people interested in user testing. So, set up a booth and start asking questions! 

Tip: Motivate your testers with an incentive. Offer them free stuff, a small sum of money, or some gift cards (depending on your budget). 

7. Choose the metrics you want to evaluate

User research without data is nothing. No one likes a bare piece of toast. 

Research and data go hand in hand. They’re the bread and butter of your usability testing. 

So, before you begin your research plan, choose your usability metrics. These are your plan’s guidelines. People involved will know what type of data you want to collect.

There are two types of metrics. One is quantitative, which refers to numbers like error rates or number of completed tasks. 

Then, there are subjective metrics. It shows the user’s satisfaction with the product, if they’d recommend it to other people, etc. 

Here are some examples:  

  • Time-on-task: Measure how long a participant takes to complete the task. 

Suppose it’s taking too long. Bad news, chief. You’ll have to make some changes to your UX design.

  • Critical errors: These refer to usability issues that prevent people from completing a specific task. 

In this case, you definitely need to change something. Or else risk a faulty product. 

  • Likes and dislikes: People will react differently to your product. See what people like about your design. Or hate.

8. Create your usability tasks

Many of us love stories. They carry us into wonderful words, teach us stuff, or make us laugh and cry. 

Don’t you have a comfort book when times get rough?

Your usability testing plan should also tell a story. Not a complex one, mind you. And certainly not of the whimsical type.  

You need to create tasks and scenarios for your participants that will guide them to meet the test’s objective, in other words.

There are two types of test tasks:

  1. Exploratory — Open-ended questions. Think of questions that have no right or wrong answers. 

Let’s say you have an e-commerce store. You want to know how often your testers shop. It doesn’t really matter if they shop once a month or twice a week. The idea is to collect extra info about your users without making the squeamish. 

  1. Specific — Okay, these questions do have a right or wrong answer. They mostly look at how easily users reach a certain page, for example, or perform a task correctly. 

So, ask contextual usability testing questions. Write a scenario that is familiar to the user. It will yield the most accurate answers. 

And make it as clear as possible. 

9. Run a pilot test

Before you run your usability test, you must perform a pilot test. It’s the test before the main test that tests the test.

Excuse me, what?

Source: Tenor

Okay, it can sound confusing but it’s a simple process. Before you begin your usability test plan, you should conduct a pilot test.

The point of it? To improve the actual usability test. Through it, you detect any problems beforehand. And refine your tasks and research questions. Or test your equipment (if any). 

You also get a good idea of how long it’ll take. ⏲️

Be careful with your participants. You can give the pilot test to your team members. 

But they should know as little as possible about the process. Think of people with the same level of knowledge as your test participants. Otherwise, you risk false bias.

10. Run the usability test

A few tips to keep in mind: be patient with your subjects. Not all of them are tech-savvy. They might encounter snags. That’s fine. Make sure to answer all their questions without judging them. 

And, just like in a relationship, don’t lead people on. Don’t give them the answers, in other words. You can answer their questions, sure, but only they can answer your questions — the ones that determine your product’s usability.

Giving them hints is as far as you may go. 

Another good tip is to observe their body language. Super important! And don’t take it personally if their feedback is brutally honest. 

Good luck! 

11. Create your usability report

Congrats! The test is finally over! Everything went according to plan. Proud of you! 

Time to celebrate!” 🎉

Yeeaaaaaaaah… Sorry, not yet. 

Your test was a success. Yes. But before you celebrate, you need to compile your usability report

It includes details of the test. It provides context to what went into the test, such as time and effort. In a nutshell, the report shares more than the test results.

You can then send the report to other people in the company. It shows the importance of usability studies. Not just for product development but also for your company as a whole.

And… cut! You just went through all the steps of a usability testing plan.

Your journey isn’t over, though. Let’s see how to make your plans even better

Best practices in creating a usability testing plan

A good chef knows how to season their dishes. And make them as delicious as possible. 😋

When it comes to usability testing, you also need to be a chef in the kitchen.

Source: Giphy

To make your testing plan truly *chef’s kiss*, here are the secret ingredients:  

  • Make it engaging: A good rule of thumb is to keep the test short and clear. Don’t make the test objectives too complicated. 

For example, you don’t have to test all your product’s features in one sitting. It’s tempting, we know. But if users have to purchase a product and reach the product page and see if all the buttons work—

It’s too much! 

Plus the longer users spend on the test, the less accurate the answers will be. 

  • Assign roles and responsibilities to different team members: Avoid taking all the jobs yourself. You’ll stress yourself out. Rely on others to help you. 

Assign tasks and roles to other team members, such as observers, moderators, etc. 

  • Run the pilot test: You already know what this is about. It helps you find issues before the testing day. 

Ask someone—who doesn’t know much about the product—to participate in a pilot test. 

For example, people in your guerrilla testing probably won’t know what your product is about. You’re mostly going to take them unaware if you approach them on the street. 

But they’re probably going to give you the most honest answer, as they’ll only comment on what they see. 

And make sure everything runs smoothly. 

  • Focus on diversity: Your test should include people of different abilities, demographics, etc. 

You’ll get more varied opinions and experiences. And you’ll build a product many people will love. 

And that’s it!

Over to you

Once upon a time, you created a website. It was beautiful. And had all kinds of stunning elements. 

It looked great. And it felt great. And people loved it. 🫶

You got a lot of kudos for it. All’s well that ends well.  

The end.

So, why was it different this time? 

Because of the usability testing plan. Without one, you repeat the same mistakes over and over. 

With it, you can reach a whole new level of greatness. 🚀

And don’t forget to take along on the ride. This annotation tool has everything you need to streamline your feedback loop.

The steps are simple. First, you upload the content you want to review. Vids. Images. PDFs. The world’s your oyster. 🦪

Then, you share the content with everyone involved. They leave comments. You make adjustments. 

Step 3? Profit

Sign up for the free 30-day trial. And try today.