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Usability Testing | Guide to Usability Test Plans

January 17, 2024

What is a usability test plan?

A usability test plan is a document that outlines a study structure, serving as a guide with details on study objectives, methodologies, participant profile, scenario, and metrics. The purpose of a usability test plan is to provide a structured approach to assess how well users can interact with a product, identify potential pain points or areas for improvement, and gauge overall user satisfaction. By defining the testing process in advance, a usability test plan ensures consistency and reliability in results, facilitating the collection of actionable insights to enhance the user experience.

To learn more about UX research plans in general, we recommend our guide on creating a UX research plan.

A usability test plan is an iterative document. It’s not a one-time thing that you draft and share with your stakeholders. Instead, sharing the drafts early and often will help clarify expectations and learning goals from multiple stakeholders.

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Why do you need a test plan?

A usability test plan is essential for successful user research as it provides a structured framework for evaluating how users interact with a product. While developing a test plan may appear trivial and burdensome, it serves as a north star to keep the focus on the scope of the project. Below are additional benefits of having a well-formatted test plan:

  • Provides a structured framework for evaluating user interactions with a product
  • Outlines clear objectives, testing scenarios, participant criteria, and evaluation metrics
  • Ensures a systematic and consistent approach to usability testing
  • Documents details about the project detail to stay on tasks and discover findings relevant to the project goals
  • Helps stakeholders and team members stay informed and synchronized throughout the project
  • Streamlines the testing process for successful user research
A well-thought out test plan serves as a north star for a consistent approach to evaluating usability of a product

Components of a usability test plan

What key information should be included in a usability test plan? We introduce several essential components that ensure that the usability test plan is thorough, well-organized, and capable of providing valuable insights aligned with the research questions and project goals.

To learn more in depth about usability testing, see our usability testing guide.

1. Introduction and background

  • Provide a brief overview of the project and goals, narrating relevant background information that explains the purpose of the project.
  • Outline the specific challenges or areas of interest that prompted the need for usability testing.
  • Define the broader context in which the study is situated, helping stakeholders understand the significance of the research.
🖌️ Quick Tip
The introduction piece should be concise and yet convincing enough for stakeholders to be well-informed about why the study is happening.

2. Research questions

  • Based on the provided context and background of the project, what are the high level research questions that need to be addressed? Articulate high-level research questions that serve as the foundation for the study.
  • Break down these overarching questions into more specific, actionable queries that can guide the usability testing process.
  • Align research questions with the overall objectives of the project or product. The project background and research questions should be relatable.
🖌️ Quick Tip
Drafting key research questions should be a collaborative process. Consult with stakeholders to determine the most important research questions.

3. Participant profile

  • Define the key characteristics of participants that are essential for addressing the research questions.
  • Provide details on how these characteristics align with the overall goals of the study.
  • Emphasize behavioral aspects over demographic information, ensuring a focus on relevant user interactions.
🖌️ Quick Tip
Don't try to boil the ocean! Be specific about the participant profile by defining the key characteristics and behaviors of your target customers.

4. Hypothesis

  • On top of the key research questions, clearly state hypotheses that articulate expectations or assumptions about user behavior, preferences, or challenges.
  • Make sure each hypothesis is specific, measurable, and directly related to the research questions. Being specific helps the study stay focused to the goals.
  • Use hypotheses to establish a framework for the study and focus the investigation on critical areas of interest.
Don’t:Participants struggle with pain point X.
Do:[Type of users] struggle with pain point X [because they can’t achieve the desired outcome Y]. [We will know this by observing behavior Z.]
Don’t:Participants will like the new feature X.
Do:[Type of users] will like the new feature X [because they are able to achieve the desired outcome Y]. [We will know this by measuring behavior Z.]

In the example above, the revised hypotheses are much telling and clearer with specific user persona described, what their desired outcome is, and how each hypothesis will be measured.

🖌️ Quick Tip
Don't feel restricted to add new hypothesis after data collection. As you run sessions and analyze data, you might find new insights and patterns. Document these new insights as hypotheses, and later tie them with study results.

5. Study Design

Once you have the learning goals, research questions, and hypotheses established, you need to identify the best experiment design that will help you achieve the study objectives. Below are a few categories that need to be considered: 

In-person vs. remote: 

Will the study happen place in a physical lab or in a remote environment? While there are both pros and cons for each in-person and remote testing environment, remote studies are becoming a much more popular option as it is much cost and time efficient.

If your team has the resources and lab setup to conduct in-person studies, consider what your team will benefit from running a study in-person. Below are some pros and cons of running in-person studies: 

Advantages of in-person studies: 
➕ Easily build rapport with the participants
➕ Intervene during the study for follow-up questions
➕ More team engagement with live in-person sessions
➕ Great for hardware tests or studies that require specific environment setup

Disadvantages of in-person studies: 
➖ Costly to invite participants to the lab
➖ Costly time wise for stakeholders and team members to be present in the lab
➖ Geographically refines the participant pool to local people

Type of data (Quantitative vs. Qualitative, Attitudinal vs. Behavioral): 

What type of data do you need to address the key research questions? Consider what type of data will shed insights for your team to take actions. Leverage how you will evaluate the hypotheses and relate what type of data is needed.

- Quantitative data involves objective, numerical data that leads to statistical significance, but requires many sample sizes.
- Qualitative data includes how participants feel and react towards the product. Quotes serve as powerful qualitative data.
- Attitudinal means understanding how participants feel and believe about the data whereas behavioral means observing how participants react to the product.

The type of data doesn't have to be one type over the other, but often involves a combination of multiple. Depending on the major type of data that is needed, the decision to moderate the study in-person or not will be heavily influenced.

Moderated vs. unmoderated: 

Will the study require a facilitator to moderate sessions? In-person studies are very likely to be moderated, while remote studies can be conducted either moderated or unmoderated. The target sample size also affects whether a study should be moderated or not. When the target number is above 10+, it becomes more costly and exhausting to moderate 10+ sessions. If the usability test environment can be setup remotely, filling in the rest of participants in unmoderated format is a reasonable compromise to meet both the target sample size while collecting a reasonable amount of data.

To learn more about the benefits of unmoderated testing, see our blog on What is unmoderated testing and how do I run one?

6. Logistics

With any user research projects, there are many resources and aspects that need to be considered. Below are a few key logistical information that should be included in a test plan: 

  • Timeline: Clearly define the timeline, specifying when the sessions will take place, start and end dates for each phase of the study.
  • Recruitment: Describe how you will recruit participants that fit the participant profile stated earlier in the test plan.
  • Target sample size: Justify the defined target sample size. Typically, a usability test involves less than 10 participants. Even though having 10+ participants may appear like having rich and insightful data, new findings that come from additional participants become marginal or likely represent edge cases as suggested in NN Group’s Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users.
    On top of the targeted sample size, add in a description of rationale on why you need that particular target sample size. Depending on the team's familiarity with usability tests, they may have doubts about a small sample size. Clarify why the chosen sample size is sufficient for addressing the research questions and goals.
  • Tools and technologies: List out any important software and tools that will be used for the study. How will note-taking take place and where will the data be stored for other stakeholders to access the data? If you are using online testing platforms, such as Hubble, make sure to run pilot studies.

7. Study script and tasks

  • Develop a detailed script outlining the structure of the usability testing session.
  • Clearly define the tasks that participants will undertake, ensuring they directly relate to the research questions and hypotheses.
  • Consider the flow of the script to address all relevant aspects without causing participant fatigue.
  • Go over the script with key stakeholders to make sure that the interview questions accurately capture the intent of the research questions and learning goals.

We've explored what information to include for an effective usability test plan. While a usability test plan may vary by companies, product teams, and study goals, we introduced key components that a plan should include. Review your study plan to make sure these components are included for a successful usability testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a usability test plan?

A usability test plan is a document that outlines the objectives, methodology, participants, tasks, and logistics of a usability testing session. It serves as a roadmap for conducting the usability test and ensures that the research objectives are met effectively.

Why is a usability test plan important?

A usability test plan helps ensure that usability testing is conducted in a structured and systematic manner. It provides clarity on the goals of the testing session, the methodology to be followed, and the resources required, thereby maximizing the value of the research insights obtained.

How do I determine the appropriate number of participants for usability testing?

The number of participants for usability testing depends on factors such as the complexity of the product or interface being tested, the diversity of the user population, and the resources available. While there is no fixed rule, usability experts often recommend testing with no more than 10 participants.

What types of tasks should be included in a usability test plan?

Tasks included in a usability test plan should reflect real-world scenarios that users are likely to encounter when interacting with the product or interface.

To learn more, see the guide section.

Jin Jeon

UX Researcher
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Jin is a UX researcher at Hubble that helps customers collect user research insights. Jin also helps the Hubble marketing team create content related to continuous discovery. Before Hubble, Jin worked at Microsoft as a UX researcher. He graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from U.C. Berkekley and an M.S in Human Computer Interaction from University of Washington.