Is it just me that I find it hilarious when I hear marketing people wanting to run a “usability test” when a product or website is about to launch. Then, come to find out they only want to see what people think or feel when they get people in the room instead of letting users use the product or website. As Steve Krug says here’s the difference in a nutshell between doing a focus group and usability testing: A focus group is getting a small group of people to TALK about things, give opinions about product or past experiences with them. A usability test is about observing a person USING the product to identify problems or frustrations so they can be fixed during the process.
Doing usability tests are great throughout the entire process of developing a new product from paper prototypes to full blown digital prototypes. Testing should often be done as well as design iterations to create the most compelling usability experience of the product. It also costs less to test now and often test to get it right versus only testing after a fully developed product hits the market. You only need 3 to 5 participants each time you do a usability test session, and it can be done anywhere; you don’t need a particular room or high tech equipment. Keep in mind you are only checking for user’s behavior, patterns, and possible pain points. You don’t need to have hundreds or thousands of participants that many people think you do for statistical significance for quantitative data because I’m trying to solve a problem and simply need to gain qualitative data.