User Testing

How to Easily Find and Fix Usability Problems

Published May 14, 2015 ⚡ Updated on October 2, 2023 by Stefan Rössler

If you think your site has usability problems, you’re probably right about that. Every website has them and it’s a constant battle to find and fix these issues.

The easiest way to do it is by watching people use your site in job-based usability tests.

“After you’ve worked on a site for even a few weeks, you can’t see it freshly anymore. You know too much. The only way to find out if it really works is to test it.”

Steve Krug, the guy who wrote Don’t Make Me Think

Why job-based usability testing?

The kind of testing described in this article is mostly identical to how Steve Krug describes his way of testing in Rocket Surgery Made Easy.

Rocket Surgery made easy by Steve Krug

Even though it’s not really new, I choose to call it job-based usability-testing to remind me of one important fact:

People “hire” websites to get a job done.
Maybe they need to find a birthday present for a friend, maybe they are looking for a solution to send their company’s marketing emails, or maybe they need something to entertain them before they’re getting back to work in a few minutes. Whatever “job” people hire your site to do, it should be the primary focus of your usability testing efforts.

To get started with job-based usability testing, you have to understand why people actually use your site.

What’s their situation? What motivates them? What’s their intended outcome?

How to write scenarios for job-based usability testing

The most important part of writing job-based scenarios is to provide users with the right amount of context to understand why they are actually using your site.

That’s why we typically start by describing the situation:

Imagine you’re invited to your friend’s birthday party in 2 weeks.

This single sentence does the job of moving people into the right mindset for testing. Instead of telling them straight away what to do, we give them just enough information to understand, why they would actually want to do it.

After this, we’re telling people more about what motivates them:

You’re still looking for a nice birthday present …

And reveal important details about the job they have to do:

… and you hope to find one below £50 on this site.

Look at these example scenarios for sites people have submitted to test with Userbrain to get a better understanding of how you could write your own job-based scenarios:

  • eCommerce site: Imagine you’re invited to your grandma’s birthday party in 2 weeks. You’re still looking for a nice present and hope to find one below £50 on this site.
  • Online printing service: Imagine you need about 30 to 40 invitations for your birthday party in 4 weeks. You’re still looking for a nice design and hope to find one on this site.
  • Inbound marketing service for fitness centers: Imagine you own a small fitness center and you’re looking for someone to design your new website and increase your online sales.
  • Provider of hardware and software solutions: Imagine you want to minimize the average wait time of your company’s Microsoft SQL Server. There are 8 people in your IT department, working with 5 test environments on 2 servers. Your current wait time is 3 days.
  • Online tool for comparing stocks: Imagine you’re interested in buying stocks from “Ezra Holdings”. You want to find out how they’re doing, so you can make a good decision on whether you should buy their stocks or not.

While all of these scenarios are slightly different from one another, they have one thing in common:
they put people into context and provide them with just enough information to get them ready for the actual task(s).

Give people clear tasks to do

After you’re done with your scenario, it’s time to come up with a specific task you want to test. Read this article about how to write better tasks or just look at these examples on the same sites from before:

  • eCommerce site: Go ahead and explore this site for a few minutes and find something you’d want to give to your friend. Try to find out if this product can be delivered to your address and how much you would have to pay in total.
  • Online printing service: Explore this site for a few minutes and try to find a card you like. Go ahead and find out if this product can be delivered to your address, how long it will take, and how much you would have to pay in total.
  • Inbound marketing service for fitness centers: Go ahead and explore this site to learn more about [service name] and try to find out what exactly they could do for you. Please explore this site for a few minutes and try to schedule a presentation.
  • Provider of hardware and software solutions: Check if [product name] supports your Microsoft SQL Server and find out how much you could save if you were using it. Please try to request a demo.
  • Online tool for comparing stocks: Go ahead and explore the rest of this site to find out more about the Ezra Holdings stock. Try to compare it to “Banyan Tree Holdings”; and speak your thoughts about which one of these two you were more likely to choose. Please explain why.

It’s important to tell people exactly what you want them to do.

Otherwise they will aimlessly explore your site and speak their opinions about everything they see.

While this may be useful from a marketing perspective, it’s not the kind of information that helps you find and fix your usability problems.


What usability consists of

Keep improving your site with job-based usability testing

After writing your job-based scenario and task you can start doing your own usability tests.

All you have to do is to provide people with your instructions and watch them trying to use your site. Problems will soon become obvious and you can start fixing them right away.

The only important thing is to keep on testing and to make sure your improvements really work and don’t produce any new issues.

You can also create new job scenarios to test different parts of your site.

Instead of testing the job of purchasing a product, you could for example test how easy it is to return a product or to reset a password and so on.

If you’re in doubt and don’t know which job to test, you can just start by asking people to try to find out what your site is all about.

Steve Krug calls it the homepage tour and we use a slight variation of what he describes in Rocket Surgery Made Easy:

Please take a look at this site and tell us what you think it is:

What’s the first thing you notice? What can you do on this site? What products or services are offered on this site? Whose site do you think it is? Who is this site intended for?

Just look around and speak everything that comes to your mind.

Notice how the above description informs users about the job of trying to find out what something is about.

You could also include more context to motivate your testers, but the only thing that matters is that you’re giving them an actual job to do instead of just asking for their opinions.

If you want to try job-based usability testing yourself, you can sign up forUserbrain and we will write a scenario & task for your site and send you videos of our users testing your site every week.

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