User Testing Vs. Usability Testing: What’s the Difference and Which Is Right For You


Your organization’s development team has just finished that new application or website. After some internal testing and verification, you’re certain this platform is going to build both engagement and drive profits leading into the next quarter. So, you’re ready to hit the ground running right? Before acting too quickly, remember that this platform will act as an extension of your organization. Have you tested how users respond? Successful applications and webpages not only provide a needed service but also convey that value in an approachable, easy-to-access manner. Until you put a product in the hands of someone else for feedback, you may be risking lackluster results. To address this, user experience and usability testing are surefire ways to remove those interaction roadblocks that come with all new platform development. Getting proper feedback during the design process is critically important to ensuring the success of your new offering. Here, working with a UX (User Experience) design team can help bridge that gap and ensure that you’re getting an experienced perspective while also getting proper user feedback through strategic user testing and usability testing. But it is not easy to know where to start. What is user testing vs usability testing and which is right for you?

User Testing vs Usability Testing: What’s the Difference and Which Should You Be Using

User testing and usability testing are both imperative to building a successful product, and come at different points in time throughout the product development process. User testing, also commonly referred to as user research in Design, is conducted to measure the level of demand for the specific service by identifying existing pain points from the user.  Usability testing, on the other hand, is conducted to ensure that your product is intuitive and functions as a user would expect. Both are crucial to get a product market ready.

46% of people will leave a website after getting an unclear picture of its purpose, and 37% will never return if they encounter poor design.

This is a customer churn rate that can turn a prosperous business into a stagnant one, and points to the incredible value that both user testing and usability provide. 

User Testing

We recommend that user testing is conducted throughout the design process to help inform product development, however it should be prioritized at the earliest stages in the process, often referred to as the discovery phase. Oftentimes, user testing consists of moderated user interviews to address the necessity of the product and its specific functions. It is important to identify and understand the users’ pain points, behaviors and motivations, which in turn will be used to inform how to build the product, which features to prioritize over others, and why. 

Usability Testing

Once the design is underway, usability testing with potential users is introduced. Prototypes and preliminary information architecture may be addressed in an attempt to uncover any major user experience problems before they occur. During usability testing, users are shown screenshots or prototypes of a proposed workflow. We identify points at which the user found the experience confusing, difficult to navigate, or unintuitive. Areas of the design the user responded positively to are also noted.

This critical step of testing saves time and resources down the road as it is far more effective to make early discoveries and address any issues before a significant development investment has been made.

It is recommended that usability testing is conducted throughout the entire design of the product.

User Testing Methodologies: Moderated Versus Unmoderated

There are two separate methods to conduct user research: Moderated and Unmoderated, each of which have distinct benefits. 

Moderated Testing is a method of research where participants are actively monitored or guided through the experiment either in person or remotely.  The ability to interact with users throughout the process produces qualitative insights on the users’ needs and pain points, as well as specific needs and points of friction around the product.  This method allows researchers to pinpoint specific user behaviors to investigate, ask follow-up questions, and dig deeper on areas that are most insightful. The moderated approach should always be applied as one research method when conducting user testing so that researchers can connect with potential users and gather qualitative insights. This approach can also be applied to usability testing, allowing researchers to better understand a user’s expectations as they walk through the product.

Unmoderated Testing is a method that allows the researcher to gather large amounts of data because it does not require a face to face interview. For user testing, this is sometimes done through surveys. For usability testing, progress is often tracked throughout the experiment and survey questions are administered upon completion of going through the design experience.

The quantitative data from unmoderated testing compliments the qualitative data from moderated testing, and the two combined form a well-rounded and informed research outcome. The overall goal of both testing methods is to find any product flaws that can help development teams readdress design flaws prior to release.

Next Steps

No matter user testing vs usability testing, moderated or unmoderated, each test should target specific questions or hypotheses regarding the product and ample data should be recorded for analysis.

This is where working with a dedicated software development and UX design team can provide not only an experienced approach in strategic user testing, but also provide an outside perspective to assess and consult on your service offering. At Flatirons Development we provide web development and full service design to our customers using our in-house expertise.

Our full stack design team takes everything into consideration and implements the appropriate methods of user interviews and user testing to ensure that all of the kinks are worked out so that you can hit the ground running upon launch.  Our experienced project management team works with each company on an individual basis to ensure that all work is completed to the highest standard.  To get in contact about your next project, send us a note at