User testing vs. usability testing: what’s the difference?

Published August 31, 2023 by Andrea in User Testing
⚡ Updated on March 5, 2024
An apple and an orange, conveying that user testing and usability testing are like apples and oranges – both fruits, but completely different.

Imagine you have an apple and an orange in front of you. At first glance, both are fruits, both provide nourishment, and both have their own unique flavors. However, when you dig deeper, you realize they serve different purposes and offer distinct experiences. User testing is like savoring an apple; it’s about understanding the entire experience—its sweetness, its crunch, and how it makes you feel. Usability testing, on the other hand, is like dissecting an orange; it’s about focusing on specific elements like how easy it is to peel and segment. Both aim to improve the user experience, but their objectives are as different as apples and oranges. Let’s peel back the layers to understand these differences between user testing vs. usability testing.

User Testing vs. Usability Testing: The Objectives

The objectives of user testing and usability testing may seem similar at first glance, but they serve distinct purposes in the realm of user experience. While both aim to enhance the interaction between the user and the product, the scope and depth of what they examine differ significantly. Knowing the objectives of each can guide you in selecting the most effective testing method for your project, whether you’re looking to optimize specific functionalities or understand the broader user experience. Let’s explore these objectives in more detail.

Usability Testing

  • Focus: Observing specific users achieve specific goals with a product in a specific context of use and come up with insights in regards to effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.. Think of it like measuring the utility of a Swiss Army knife’s various tools.
  • Methods: Observers watch as participants try to complete specific tasks, like signing up for an account or navigating through a menu.
  • Outcome: The result is actionable advice to remove friction points in the user interface, like changing a confusing icon or simplifying a multi-step process.

Looking to start usability testing? ? Discover our  Top 10 Free Usability Testing Tools.

User Testing

  • Focus: Covers the whole user experience—comfort, satisfaction, and even emotional reactions. It’s like evaluating not just the knife but the knife’s role in the context of an entire camping trip.
  • Methods: Observers ask more open-ended questions and look at a wider range of responses, from how participants felt using the product to whether they found it useful.
  • Outcome: The end game is an in-depth understanding of how the product fits into users’ lives, which could lead to changes like adding new features or entirely rethinking the user journey.

Looking to start user testing? ? Discover our Top 10 Remote User Testing Tools.

An infographic detailing the differences between user testing and usability testing.

Real-world case studies: The value of user & usability testing

To better illustrate the impact and importance of user and usability testing, let’s take a look at some real-world case studies from industry giants. These examples not only highlight the value of testing but also demonstrate how it can be strategically applied to solve specific challenges and achieve measurable outcomes. First up, let’s explore how Airbnb leveraged user testing to build trust and ensure safety in their community.

Airbnb: user testing for trust and safety

Airbnb recognized that they were not just in the business of providing lodging but in creating safe and trusted spaces. They implemented features like verified IDs and user reviews, based on extensive user testing that evaluated the comfort and trust levels of both hosts and guests.

Amazon: the A/B Testing pioneer for usability

Amazon constantly ran A/B tests to figure out the tiniest details, like the color of the ‘Buy Now’ button. Through rigorous usability testing, they enhanced the shopping experience and maximized conversions.

Google: material design’s usability success

Google’s Material Design is more than a design language; it’s a comprehensive UI/UX guide that was honed through meticulous usability testing. The result is an interface framework that’s not only intuitive but widely adaptable.

User Testing Platforms

Before we delve into the specifics, it’s worth noting that the world of user testing platforms is rich and varied, each offering unique features to meet different testing needs. Here are a few favorites of ours, starting with our own!

Userbrain: easy, fast & affordable user testing

Screenshot of the Userbrain home page

  • Summary: Userbrain is a user-friendly platform that allows quick setup of tests and provides results within hours. It’s designed for UX teams looking for actionable insights.
  • Key Features: Easy setup, broad tester pool, mobile app testing, AI insights, and transcripts.
  • Pricing: Plans start at $99/month for 3 testers and go up to $799/month for 30 testers. A pay-as-you-go option is also available at $39 per tester. For larger businesses, Enterprise plans are available on request.

Learn more ? Userbrain Features.

UserTesting: for on-demand human insights

  • Summary: UserTesting is a premium platform that focuses on providing “Customer Experience Narratives” through video-first analytics.
  • Key Features: Video-first CxNs, audience solutions, human insight management, data and machine learning, and open API ecosystem.
  • Pricing: Custom pricing is available through a sales call.

Learn more ? UserTesting vs. Userbrain.

TryMata: for automated user testing

  • Summary: TryMata offers a robust set of user testing and product analytics tools designed to cater to various teams and needs.
  • Key Features: Test setup options, user recruitment, data collection, analysis & collaboration.
  • Pricing: Plans range from $399/month for small teams to custom pricing for agencies.

Learn more ? TryMata vs. Userbrain.

Usability Testing Platforms

Switching gears to usability testing, the tools in this category offer a different set of capabilities. First on our list is Crazy Egg, a leader in heatmap analytics.

Crazy Egg: renowned for its heatmap analytics

  • Summary: Crazy Egg is a website optimization tool that offers heatmaps, recordings, and A/B testing among other features.
  • Key Features: Heatmaps, website recordings, A/B testing, error tracking, surveys, and goals.
  • Pricing: Plans start at $29/month for basic features and go up to custom pricing for enterprise-level needs.

Learn more ? CrazyEgg Alternatives.

Hotjar: for comprehensive behavior analytics & feedback

  • Summary: Hotjar combines analytics and feedback tools to provide a complete understanding of user behavior and needs.
  • Key Features: Heatmaps, recordings, feedback and surveys, AI features, and user interviews.
  • Pricing: Free basic plan available. Paid plans start at $39/month and go up to custom pricing for advanced analytics features.

Learn more ? Hotjar Alternatives.

Userfeel: offers multilingual usability testing

  • Summary: Userfeel is a pay-as-you-go user testing platform that offers tests in over 40 languages and has a diverse panel of testers.
  • Key Features: Multilingual testing, demographic filters, unmoderated or moderated tests, voice transcription, and SUS ratings.
  • Pricing: Costs range from $30 for a 60-minute test with your own tester to $180 for a 60-minute test with Userfeel’s panel.

Learn more ? Userfeel Alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What’s the primary goal of usability testing? The primary goal is to gauge how user-friendly a product is. This involves identifying pain points, such as confusing instructions or hidden features, and offering actionable solutions to fix them.
  2. How does user testing differ from A/B testing? User testing aims to understand the why behind user behavior—why users prefer one feature over another, for instance. A/B testing, as a quantitative testing method, on the other hand, is more about the what—what feature or version is more effective in terms of metrics like conversion rates or click-throughs.
  3. Can small businesses also benefit from user and usability testing? Absolutely, yes! User testing can be a fantastic return on investment. Even a simple round of testing with a small user group can offer invaluable insights that can lead to meaningful improvements in your product or service.
  4. Do I need a fully developed product to start testing? Not at all. Testing can start as early as the ideation phase. Early feedback can help shape the direction of your product development, saving you time and resources in the long run.
  5. Can I do both user testing and usability testing at the same time? Yes, they often complement each other. While user testing gives you a holistic understanding of the user’s interaction with your product, usability testing will provide granular insights that can be immediately acted upon.

Wrapping up: user testing vs. usability testing

So, the next time you find yourself pondering whether to focus on user testing or usability testing, remember the apples and oranges analogy. Both are fruits in the vast orchard of user experience, but they serve different purposes and offer unique flavors of insight. The key is to know when to savor the apple and when to peel the orange. Thankfully, you have a variety of platforms, from Userbrain to guide you through this fruitful journey. Are you ready to make your product not just functional, but truly delightful? Let’s get testing!

Next steps: user testing & usability testing

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