The Value Experts Can Add to User Testing

By Michelle Balge,
Five test tubes with splattering pattern

Usability testing is often overlooked in the design process, but it’s crucial to create a great user experience. Companies that partake in usability testing catch where users get stuck, confused, frustrated, or even give up on using the company’s website. Usability testing will bring to light areas of your site’s design that can be improved, and even more so if you have an experienced person conducting these tests.

What is usability testing?

Having people actually use your site will help you know if your site will produce the results you want. During usability testing, participants try to complete specific tasks on your website while a moderator watches and asks them to speak their thoughts. This reveals areas of your site that can be changed to significantly improve the user experience. It is possible to have unmoderated usability testing sessions (where the user completes tasks with no one else present), but for simplicity, we’ll focus on moderated testing.

How does usability testing work? 

Usability testing involves having (ideally) 5 participants complete specific tasks on your site to see if there are any areas that can be improved. The participants don’t have to be your site’s target users, as most people can provide helpful insights. During a usability test, the moderator watches the participants use your site and asks what they’re thinking while they complete each task. To produce unbiased results, the moderator asks non-leading questions and remains neutral. The moderator does not ask participants what they’d like to see changed, but how the website makes them feel as they navigate the site on their own. It’s best to conduct usability testing throughout the design process, as you don’t want to wait until it’s ready for launch to find out there are major changes to make. By having someone facilitate multiple sessions, designers are able to catch problems, fix them, and test the new design with new participants. When fixing these problems, it’s crucial to focus on fixing those of the greatest importance first. 

Words from an expert

Patricia Rodriguez, Senior UX Designer here at Kalamuna, has been facilitating usability testing sessions since 2012. Long before beginning sessions, she had read “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug, sparking her interest in usability testing. I got the chance to ask her several questions related to her experience moderating sessions, and she certainly provided valuable insights! Responses have been edited for clarity.

What does an expert at usability testing provide in value that a novice can’t?

Experience and Efficiency: 

Having done usability testing many times before, and having a fine-tuned system in place, experts know how to improvise and edit that system as needed. Since all tests and their variables are different, this expertise is important. Experts in usability testing know how to interpret, synthesize and present results in an actionable way for the specific context.

There is also sensitivity in communicating with the participants - knowing what to say, what not to say - and knowing to leave lots of quiet gaps and just listen.

What have you learned throughout your years of user testing?

User testing is super important as it uncovers issues based on assumptions the project team, including project stakeholders, makes and bakes into the design. Fresh eyes can find “gotchas” that people working on the project cannot see.

Ideally, we want to use real users - the people who use the thing we are testing - rather than other people on the project, who may have too much context and bias or other web professionals, who may be too savvy.

Moderated usability testing is better than unmoderated. You get to dig deeper and find out more, including the “why” in terms of what people think and do. But, if you are only able to do an unmoderated test, it still provides great insight, value, and costs less.

The most common things that are uncovered revolve around labels and content that are confusing or misleading or visual design treatments that might obscure or emphasize things in ways that might not help. Luckily, these things are easy fixes in design and development.

How successful is remote testing versus in-person testing?

In many respects, I think remote testing works better than in-person testing:

  • The participant is in their own comfortable familiar environment, on their own computer
  • There isn’t a stranger sitting next to them watching and asking questions or a 2-way mirror with more people watching behind it
  • It’s more natural and comfortable for users, as well as the moderator. It also costs a lot less than in-person testing

Is the investment of usability testing worth it?

It usually is. But it depends on who does it; whether it is moderated or not; how the recruiting is handled; how many participants there are; whether it is in person or remote, etc. The price can vary greatly.

After learning how much different services and professionals charge, I’ve come to the conclusion that we offer amazing value for our user testing a Kalamuna. We often get the client to do the recruiting, which saves them money. Usually, we do the testing ourselves remotely with 5 participants, which is just enough to uncover the biggest usability problems. We always find things to improve upon. It’s a relief when we uncover those things, so it’s always worth the investment in usability testing.


Usability testing is clearly extremely helpful, especially when an expert is moderating the sessions because of their experience and efficiency. 

At Kalamuna, we test with the ideal number of participants, have a fine-tuned system in place, and always find things to improve upon. Knowing how to interpret, synthesize, and present results in an actionable way are what we do. Plus, we offer amazing value.

Ready to improve your website to reach your goals? Contact us today!

Michelle Balge

First and foremost, Michelle lives an ethically-aligned life. From being an outspoken mental health advocate to working at a cause-driven agency, she’s here to make the world a better place. As our UX/UI designer, she translates our clients’ visions and goals into great user experiences.