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Test a design hypothesis.

Usability testing


Observing users as they attempt to use a product or service while thinking out loud.


To better understand how intuitive the team’s design is, and how adaptable it is to meeting user needs.

Time required

30 minutes to 1 hour per test

How to do it

  1. Pick what you’ll test. Choose something, such as a sketch, prototype, or even a "competitor’s product" that might help users accomplish their goals.
  2. Plan the test. Align your team on the scenarios the test will focus on, which users should participate (and how you’ll recruit them), and which team members will moderate and observe. Prepare a usability test script.
  3. Recruit users and inform their consent. Provide a way for potential participants to sign up for the test. Pass along to participants an agreement explaining what participation will entail. Clarify any logistical expectations, such as screen sharing, and how you’ll share links or files of whatever it is you’re testing.
  4. Run the tests. Moderators should verbally confirm with the participant that it’s okay to record the test, ask participants to think outloud, and guide the participant through the session. Observers should contribute to a rolling issues log and relay any in-session questions to the moderator, refraining from interrupting the session from the participant’s point of view. Engage your team in a post-interview debrief after each test.
  5. Discuss the results. Schedule a collaborative synthesis meeting to discuss issues you observed, and any questions these tests raise concerning user needs. Conclude the meeting by determining how the team will use what it learned in service of future design decisions. main

Examples from 18F

Additional resources

Considerations for use in government

No PRA implications. First, any given usability test should involve nine or fewer users. Additionally, the PRA explicitly exempts direct observation and non-standardized conversation, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)3. It also specifically excludes tests of knowledge or aptitude, 5 CFR 1320.3(h)7, which is essentially what a usability test tests. See the methods for Recruiting and Privacy for more tips on taking input from the public.


18F Methods

An official website of the GSA’s Technology Transformation Services

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