User Testing vs. Usability Testing. Choose the Best Approach for Your Mobile App Development

User Testing vs. Usability Testing

Mobile app development industry has reached the point of no return these days. To gain a satisfying number of users and pursue them to stay, an entrepreneur must provide an exclusive, enhancing, and truly valuable application. Before dreaming about huge revenue one has to ensure the usability and quality of the software that has been developed. This is where such terms as user testing and usability testing come into the picture. They sound like po-tay-to/po-tah-to, so we decided to clarify some things for you. But the distinction between two methods is pretty important to understand. This article will explore the basics of both.


User Testing vs Usability Testing. Main Differences
TECSYNT’s Testing Experience Case
The List Of Usability/UX Tests
Digital Tools for Testing Usability and Improving UX
Summing it Up

User Testing and Usability Testing: Main Differences

Every modern person uses mobile apps or websites, we all enjoy the convenience and great user experience. To achieve this level of quality, every development team is testing such products’ usability to determine how well they’re functioning on a programming basis. While user experience testing usually happens in a focus group of consumers that provide developers with serious feedback on what captured their attention and why.

User Testing and Usability Testing: Main Differences

Some QA testers may say that such thing as User Testing doesn’t exist and they may be right. So, the first thing to clarify is that such method refers to user experience (UX) testing which is often confused with usability. Over the years this two somehow became synonymous, while it’s not correct at all. They aren’t the same thing, not even close. You can conduct A/B and multivariate tests or include focus groups but that doesn't mean that you have tested product’s usability.

Usability – the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.

It plays a big role when you plan to invest time and effort in building a website or application. Developers are not your future users, they won’t test your product from a customer’s point of view. So, here lays an answer to the question ‘do you need to test an app with your users?’. Yes, you do. Since the software’s purpose is to serve both the owner and clients. Usability testing would definitely ensure the first part, but what about the second one? Here, your goals would be to understand who is your actual target audience and what they will seek to gain from your project. This can be described simply as the data gathering process, which includes information about your users and their testing feedback.

User Experience – a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service. UX includes all the users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviors and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use.

Therefore, now we can outline the fundamental differences of user testing and usability testing.

Battle Ground

User (UX) Testing

Usability Testing

Main purpose

To gather qualitative insights about the experience that users had visiting the app/site – how they felt while using your product and what impression it made on them.

To determine how easily the customers accomplish specific tasks using app or website. Usability testing shows quantitative insights like how many taps/clicks it took a user to get from A to B point.

The Value

UX testing brings value when you shape specific brand impressions. Is your new app/site engaging and informative for users? Was their first experience frustrating even a little?

Usability is valuable for monitoring pathways that customers take to complete specific tasks within the software. Is the navigation process seamless? Are all the elements easy to find and understand?

What to Expect From Tests

Positive answer to the question ‘Do people enjoy the app solution I provided?’

Positive answer to the question ‘Can clients easily and effectively use the app and all its features?’

It is, actually, a common approach to conduct not just one type of testing but the mix of both in order to get more specific development insights. These types of testing will create the most value, let’s explore the two types of testing a little deeper. In a nutshell, one can’t exist without the other if an entrepreneur desires to inspire users to take an action with the application. They must be compelled to do so (UX), while at the same time it should be easy enough for them to complete such action (usability).

Read Also: Top 5 Emerging Software Testing Trends to Follow in 2018

TECSYNT’s Testing Experience Case

As for the real-life testing case, we can mention a food ordering app for a chain of Australian restaurants. Such software allows people to order meals from all their gadgets and then receive orders wherever they are. Here, the new users were expecting the flawless and easiness of the ordering and payment procedure. Every step of the journey from clicking the app’s icon to receiving the food must be tested for usability and UX.

So, the task for developers was to ensure that users get their food quick and painless. Which means to lower a level of friction in the ordering process to a minimum. Some tests were performed a couple of times to discover and exclude all bugs and inaccuracies. The interface, menu catalogs, error messages, credit cards data, and the overall performance of this kind of application have to stand an ocean away from poor usability.

As for the user testing, there is a helpful honeycomb scheme developed by Peter Morville and his colleagues. It graphically presents all facets of UX that should be considered during the testing stage:

Testing UX

Now, let’s see what actions could be done when it comes to implementing these two categories of testing.

The List Of Usability/UX Tests

The reasonable question that comes to mind of an app owner is how to conduct usability testing? It’s all about contextual task completion. There would be no such amatory things as “awesome” or “wow” factors. It’s not your personal beliefs that matters but the level of customers satisfaction. Just testing tasks and their completion. So, to put themselves in user’s shoes and determine the effectiveness of apps and websites, software testing professionals provide the set of ongoing usability tests.

Here is a really quick list for typical types of usability testing:

Free Exploration Test
  • Actual usage
  • Being used when navigation isn’t the issue.
  • Observes users at work on a detailed app/website design.
  • Actual usage
  • The test is typically used in a detailed design.
  • Finds answers to the questions:      
       –  What attracts and holds customers’ attention?
       –  How long did a specific area of the screen hold their focus?
       –  In which order users looked at items on a presented screen?
  • Evaluates what participants scan vs. what they read.
Performance Test
  • Navigation design
  • Here you observe and listen to users as they interact with the software.
  • Assign tasks with scenarios. Indicate:
       – 2 = Completed
       – 1 = Difficult or close
       – 0 = Fail
  • Find potential roadblocks along with any perceived error corrections.
Performance Test
  • The goal is the organization of content, layout, task flow, controls
  • Test evaluates the navigation design, labeling, and functionality under realistic conditions. Used on an advanced prototype – working app/site.
  • Presents individual scenarios and tasks to testers.
  • Measures success rate, time on task, and a level of user satisfaction.
  • Finds potential roadblocks along with any perceived error corrections.
Closed Card Sort
  • The goal is the organization of content
  • Determines whether or not navigation labels make sense to users
  • Replicates user mental models
  • You show test participants an app’s pre-defined navigation / group of categories.
  • Ask users to go find [specify a feature]. Then focus on:
       – Number of correct answers
       – Amount of time to answer
       – Confidence in answer
Visual Affordance
  • After showing users an actual screen, give them a printed version of it. Ask them to mark every icon on the screen that they believe is clickable.
  • Then, give them another printed version of the screen and ask to mark those items that they believe are not clickable.

All the true usability testing professionals and organization have their own much longer lists similar to this one. They know that usability is a critical facet of the user experience. Your users can be delighted or entertained using your app or site, but what’s the point if they can’t discover the desired content in a given period of time? Uncompleted tasks lead to low level of satisfaction, as we said before.

Digital Tools for Testing Usability and Improving UX

As we believe, user testing phase follows the usability testing one. And each party of a development team that is responsible for that tests has its own set of goals and questions which must be answered. The skilled testers should have a very detail-oriented, keen sense of what annoys them in the product. It takes a professional to become an adequate UX and usability tester. An average person can say 'fine', while there would be still an elusive link that could cost an entrepreneur thousands of dollars. Such defect/bug could be found only by a skilled team of testers and vital digital tools.

Digital Tools for Testing Usability and Improving UX

To ensure the best UX possible and increase the conversion rate, the QA engineers team may use this list of user/usability testing tools to get us through the process:


Famous user-friendly A/B testing platform to track visits and conversions. Here we have a bunch of useful features: mobile website and cross-browser testing, geotargeting, visitor segmentation, multivariate testing. The basic user plan is free, but some extra features are paid-for.


A feature-rich tool that is quite comprehensive. You can activate click heatmaps, mobile and targeted feedback forms, exit surveys, and feedback widgets that collect an info via emails. The 14-day free trial is available before you sign up for a monthly annual pricing plan.

Five Second Test (FTS)

A quick and easy, community-based helper that we use to test brand messaging and gather invaluable feedback. Especially useful tool during the app design phase when we need a snapshot of the immediate impressions that an overall look of the product makes on people. Just upload a screenshot or mock-up, add the question about the functionality or design elements, and wait for the user’s answer. Each such test takes only five seconds as the name suggests. FST is supported by UsabilityHub and it’s the best choice when speaking about a budget for testing. The paid plans start at $20/mo, however, one can earn free responses after completing tests for other users.


One of our favorite, the user-friendly wireframing tool with advanced prototyping and documentation features which allow our team to flawlessly collaborate on a project. Axure provides various heatmapping technologies and frameworks that help us to trace where users are clicking on a page/screen, where they are leaving the app or site and why.

And a few other tools are also in our arsenal, so we are fully capable to do the app and website usability testing job.

Summing it Up

Great user experience means greater conversions and revenue boost. So testing UX is imperative to ensure product’s maturity and readiness for marketing. We just hope this article did shed some light on the differences between user testing vs. usability testing. Now that you know how these types of testing are done and which value do they bring you can make an informed decision on whether or not you need them in your project. Considering the cost of testing, you should put some extra money in your calculation in case you’ll need to hire professionals and use both methods.

If you have any usability testing questions, shoot us a message right away. Our QA team is always ready to help.

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