If I could do a bit of time travel I’d go back and change the term “usability testing”. Although the title is quite descriptive, it is ultimately too close to “user acceptance testing”. And the use of the testing word is definitely a problem.
The problem is that people associate testing (and in particular user acceptance testing) with something you do at the end of something. You test it to make sure it works.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered that basic misunderstanding of the purpose of a usability test.
Sure you can conduct a usability test at the end of a process on a finished product, but as any good usability practitioner will tell you, saving your usability testing until the end of a project when it is more costly and time-consuming to make changes doesn’t really make any sense.
Good usability practitioners will advise that you spend two-thirds of your usability budget before you are one-third of the way through your project. This way your usability insights can actually inform the way the product is designed and developed.
Early in a project, usability testing (and related research techniques) is a highly effective method of providing insights into questions that inform the design process.
I encourage you to think of usability testing as design research – and maybe you could also call it design research from now on so that our less well-informed colleagues don’t get confused.
Now where did I leave that tardis?