Research Clarified: Moderated usability testing

Megan Cattley


12 January 2023

Usability testing is a staple in any UX designer or researcher’s toolkit. It is a type of behavioural research that can be conducted at different stages throughout the digital lifecycle to capture insights.

Examples of when to conduct usability testing include: competitor analysis, early paper prototypes, mid-fidelity clickable prototypes and high-fidelity implementation stage products.


Usability testing can be conducted both moderated and unmoderated, as well as used to gather qualitative or quantitative feedback. The most common of these being moderated qualitative testing, which is what this article will focus on.


During the session, a moderator will observe a participant completing a set of tasks relating to the use of a digital product. Typically the same tasks are completed with 4 – 6 participants each round of testing.


Why usability testing?

Moderated usability testing is used to understand user behaviours in relation to a digital product. It can be vital for highlighting pain points in a user’s key actions on a site, platform or app and understanding how tasks are being completed. This type of research also enables us to observe the actions users really take rather than what they say they do.


Make it Clear’s tips

Conduct usability testing early 

Usability testing can be effective as early as paper prototypes to help guide the design direction of a product. Conducting usability testing, particularly at low and mid-fidelity design stages, means that changes can be easily implemented and re-tested without costly and time consuming development updates.


Check your tasks aren’t leading users

Common mistakes when creating tasks for usability testing often include introducing bias or leading users. Try to avoid over contextualising your tasks and review your phrasing for positive and negative terminology. It can be very useful to do a practice run through with a test participant to catch any changes to tasks required.


Involve the wider team

Hearing feedback directly from users can be hugely beneficial for the wider team, including designers, developers as well as stakeholders. This can help teams to relate to issues raised and provide context to any challenges real users are facing, as well as understand how the product is being used. Having team members listen in to the sessions live can be one of the most effective methods, or alternatively, watch back recordings or introduce video clips to your insight reports.


Consider remote testing

Remote testing can vastly expand your participant pool. This can mean an opportunity to test with users across the world in one day. Remote testing can also expedite other costs sometimes associated with usability testing such as lab hire. However, remote testing also has its limitations, such as being only suitable for designs which can be accessed online and less suitable for those with limited digital skills.

It’s important to appropriately plan remote testing to ensure that participants have the right equipment, understand the session requirements and have an appropriate environment to complete the test.


Recruit the right people

It’s important to recruit participants that match your target audience as closely as possible. Otherwise, results will be irrelevant and may take your product in the wrong direction. You should also avoid recruiting people who work in tech or fellow researchers unless they are your target audience.



Usability testing is an integral research method for creating digital products which have an excellent user experience. We recommend testing early and iteratively to maximise the value this research method can provide. Stay tuned for our next post in this series.


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