What is User Research and Usability Testing?

5 min readSep 28, 2020

In this article, we will understand what User Research and Usability Testing are and how they differ from each other. Even though these are 2 very different concepts and methods of gauging user perspective about a product or service, they are both equally important and add great value to the entire design process. User Research and Usability Testing are very often confused to be the same. However, this is not the case, they have very different work models and outcomes. Even though the end goal is the same for the above mentioned two work models, but the execution and outcome of User Research and Usability Testings are very different from one another.

User Research and Usability Testing are both adopted by businesses to enhance the entire user experience the audience has with a brand. They both in a way help in understanding user perception and feedback. It is vital for businesses to accommodate both these research methods to ensure the best outcomes. To create user-centric products and services businesses need to ensure that User Research and Usability Testing are both a part of the design process. So what is the difference then? How are they so alike yet different from one another?

What exactly is User Research?

User Research is a concept that means getting an in-depth understanding of user needs, user requirements, user behavior, and user perception. A compiled report of the above-mentioned data helps organizations connect with a section of their target audience and get first-hand feedback about their products and services. This is a process where participants are asked to complete a certain set of tasks like completing the check-out, adding personal details, finding certain options so on, and so forth. A team of expert moderators then observe how these participants go about completing the assigned tasks and identifying difficulties and roadblocks they face while doing so. Once a report about the pain-points, problems, difficulties, etc. is gathered, design experts then use the data to create design prototypes that meet user expectations. This process is repeated at multiple stages during a project to ensure the best results.

If that is User Research, then what is Usability testing?

In simple words, Usability Testing is a well-planned and systematic process used to evaluate a product or service which is functional. This testing is done at a stage when a particular product or service is ready or almost ready. This gives an insight into how usable a product or service is from the user's point of view. Basically, Usability Testing helps businesses understand if a product or service is able to match up to the users' expectations or not. Usability Testing refers to a technique or method used to derive how a particular product or service is used by the end-user and how comfortable they are interacting with it. This is done at the end when a product is functional and when users can actually use it and give their feedback. This helps determine how successful the product or service will be, how popular will it be among users, how much would the users be comfortable paying for it, etc.

The end goal of both User Research and Usability Testing is very beneficial for businesses. They both help understand user behavior and user perception about a particular product or service. However, they both are still very different from each other and if magnified closer, they both also have different result metrics for brands. Now that we know what User Research and Usability Testing are, let’s further understand how they both differ from one another and how they have very different ways of execution.

2 reasons how User Research differs from Usability Testing?

Most people think that User Research and Usability Testing are very similar. This is however not correct. Yes, they do to some extend have the same end goal for any business yet differ from each other at multiple folds. User Research can be considered as an umbrella which has various kinds of techniques and methodologies that aim to identify and understand user behavior and perception about different products and services.

When they both should be conducted

Whenever a design process is set there are different stages with different agendas. All aligned and well structured in a chronological order to deliver the best outcomes. Before a project starts the steps that need to be followed are laid and every department is allotted their specifications. The same way User Research and Usability Testing also has there well-planned slots in design processes. On one hand, where User Research can be done at all stages, on the other hand, Usability Testing can be conducted once the product or service is ready and functional. A User Research can be conducted before the project begins, while the project is on, and even at later stages because this helps understand user behavior throughout the journey to help and enhance the overall user experience at multiple levels. However, with Usability Testing, it is done once the product or service is ready and users get to experience the product/service on their own and then give their feedback about the usability of that particular product or service.

So, User Research can be conducted at all stages during a project and can be done multiple times for better outcomes and Usability Testing is done once a particular product or service is ready to use and is functional.

What should one expect from each one of them

Both, User Research and Usability Testing have different levels of expert techniques and methods to gauge user perception about a product or service. From User Research one can get complete insight about what users expect from a brand and how brands can enhance their product or service to meet user expectations. However, Usability Testing on the other hand is conducted to understand how usable and user-friendly a product or service is. In this, users are given a particular product or service and moderators observe the level of difficulty or ease users find while engaging with it.

With User Research one can expect answers related to how to enhance a product/service during the design process based on user feedback. Usability Testing gives answers to questions related after a product/service is made to check how users react to it and how they interact with it.

In conclusion

Both User Research and Usability Testing add equal value to the entire design process. While User Research gives a deeper understanding of user behavior and feedback, Usability Testing helps in identifying the usability issues a product or service has. Both of these methods are extremely important to make any design a hit.

Usability Testing refers to the ease of usability of a specific product or service and User Research means getting an idea about what user feel about a brand or their products and services which formulate universal principles. They both help in enhancing the over the user experience of a product and add meaning and value to what the brand has to offer to their target audience. If either of these methods is in some way neglected during the design process, there could be greater problems in the future that brands may have to deal with.




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