Human-first design: the 4 goals of usability testing

Human first design implies a user-centered interaction design that relies on accomplishing the goals of usability testing. This method takes into account the usage and direct input of users on your system.

Fidel Chaves
7 min read

Design Thinking

Human first design requires starting your project with a plan in mind. That does not only imply accomplishing goals of usability testing but also a knowledge of the design cycle. Design thinking involves 6 phases of a straightforward process; when mastering it, you can expect a surge of innovation, differentiation from your competitors, and an all-around advantage. This way of thinking has been around for longer than you may think; examples begin even before the 20th century with items focused on user lives and needs.


Empathize: research your users and audience. Know what they do, say, think and feel.


Define: gather your research, point out problems, and highlight needs. Find your innovation opportunities.


Ideate: put all the ideas forward, gather your team, leave judgment aside, and go crazy. This is the freedom phase.


Prototype: bring your ideas to life with representations, evaluate what works and what does not. Take feasibility into account.


Test: go to your users for feedback. Here is where usability testing resides. Go with a human-first approach. Does it meet their needs?


Implement: go out into the world. Present your ideas to reality. That is your litmus test.

Usability testing: watch them work

When coming up with alternatives for your design, you might be tempted to ask your users to assess the options by asking them which they prefer. While this sounds great, it’s not the best option. Why? Because seeing a website or app is not the same as using it. Without extensive use, they can like or dislike a version solely on surface features. These comments will contrast with feedback obtained from actual use.


To understand the strengths and weaknesses of your product, you have to observe users while using it: how they fail or succeed in performing tasks, the time they take to complete them, and the deviation from intended use are factors to measure. In doing this, you assure that you have reliable sources of data to improve. Be careful not to guide or explain anything to the testers before or during this experience. Even if you want to help, you are harming the test. Remember that you won’t be there for every person that uses your product, so keep it as close as possible to the actual experience.


With this approach, you can rest assured that you know what users do, and not what they say they do, or even worse, what they say they may do in future cases. While all ideas first start as hypotheses, you must put them through testing and validate their benefits and downsides.

Responsive vs. adaptive design

When designing your usability tests, you should consider the different platforms and resolutions where your product will be displayed. Mobile and desktop are not the same things, and even inside them, you can find noticeable differences. As I take notes, I’m an avid user of split-screen reading, and let me tell you, many websites fail as you change their expected size as elements go crazy.


Responsive design refers to websites where pages are fluid and adapt to the screen size—achieved through CSS media queries—and allows for changing styles depending on the browser window. It lets content remain consistent and readable on your desktop and mobile devices, which leads to a single design that adapts to any device, saving UX designers time and headaches. One of the downsides is that you are sacrificing speed, as the whole code has to run, and the layout needs to adjust, causing longer loading times.


On the other hand, adaptive design implies designing multiple views according to each device or browser size. This option will load static layouts based on the viewport, so designers have to cater to a diverse range of dimensions. This method gives designers control over how the page looks, but each template needs to be created individually.

Goals of usability testing

Usability testing measures the capacity of a product to meet its intended purpose. That applies to a wide range of products and services, but we are mainly interested in the technological aspect. The goals of usability testing are specific to your software or hardware and measure their usability.


You should break your objectives down into categories. Have precise questions in mind, as you will only get the information you ask for, and it may not even be what you expect. Questions should be research-focused, be careful not to fall into broader ones. You want to know the user problems in detail, not put out a fancy method.


Ask your team what they want to know about users and the user experience, think around those first doubts and build hypotheses that can be tested against actual use. These objectives should be as simple as possible to avoid many variables working simultaneously: you need scientific lab accuracy.

Human first: usability metrics

While designing a product, you should always think about the human that will use it on the other end. For proper calibration, you should set usability metrics for your tests. Let’s put them forward:


Success rate: Could the user complete the desired task?


Error rate: What were the most common errors in your test group


Time to completion: How much time did users spend on completing the task?


Subjective measures: Ask your fellow human what they liked, what they would change, etc. Honest feedback can be helpful, but remember, always compare what users say with what they actually do.


If you take these simple measures, you would be considering the bulk of problems and frustrations that a given user can encounter. But, before arriving at the testing phase, you might want to check some guidelines.

Usability heuristics

Jakob Nielsen put forward ten general principles of usability for interaction design. They are called heuristics, and they refer to heuristic techniques. These refer to a practical method of problem-solving that does not guarantee optimality but is sufficient for a short-term goal or approximation. It is applied when finding an exact or optimal solution is impossible or impractical. Inside this category, we can find trial and error, a rule of thumb, or an educated guess.


Visibility of system status: the user should know what is happening at all times, which is accomplished by giving feedback at reasonable intervals.


Match between system and the real world: speak the user’s language, avoid jargon and stay around familiar concepts, phrases and words. Maintain a logical, real-world order.


User control and freedom: always give an energy exit to the user. They might have made a mistake and don’t want to go through a hurdle for a correction.


Consistency and standards: stay consistent; users won’t know if the variable words you use mean different things or not, set standards, and follow conventions.


Error prevention: eliminate error-causing features or conditions; this can be by adding an extra confirmation option before committing.


Recognition rather than recall: don’t rely on user memory; make all the options visible, available, or easily retrievable.


Flexibility and efficiency of use: compensate expert use by inserting shortcuts and other ways to speed up for knowledgeable users.


Aesthetic and minimalist design: don’t include irrelevant information, each extra piece of information competes with the relevant ones.


Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors: avoid error codes and present them while providing a solution.


Help and documentation: provide extra documentation and explanations if needed. This can help users understand and complete their needs.


If you follow this set of heuristics, you can be sure to step above your competitors while helping your users and probably acquiring new customers. The best publicity for your company is a satisfied customer that talks wonders to their acquaintances. These recommendations remain relevant since 1994 when Jakob Nielsen put them onto paper.


At Awkbit, we follow usability principles and heuristics to provide the best possible user experience. We know that a business is always a work in progress, so we put learning, testing, and feedback as guiding principles. Is testing beyond your business scope? Are you in need of help? Let us know!

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