Heardable and Usability Testing with 1 Person


You Should Usability Test, Even With Just 1 Person

Wanna know what I think?  I think usability testing is so important, so amazingly powerful, and so useful for companies that want need to increase web site ROI that they should must usability test – even with just 1 person.

Only 1 person? Not 7 people? I know – I know, you’re reaching for the phone to call the insane asylum and have me committed. But before you do, just hear me out – you may decide I’m crazy like a Fox (or a really, really smart Badger).

Fox photo by Property#1 via Flickr Creative Commons license
Crazy like a Fox

ANY usability testing is better than NO usability testing

You may not believe me, but this is a universal truth: ANY usability testing is better than no usability testing. Don’t believe me? OK, maybe you’ll believe a couple of usability gurus.

Here’s what Steve Krug has to say about usability testing with just one person:

“If you really want to know if your Web site works, ask your next door neighbor to try using it, while you watch.

(You bring the beer.)”

Here’s what another usability guru, Jakob Nielsen has to say about usability testing with just one person:

“As soon as you collect data from a single test user, your insights shoot up and you have already learned almost a third of all there is to know about the usability of the design. The difference between zero and even a little bit of data is astounding.”

Now of course I’m not advocating ONLY using one person at all times. But in critical situations where resources and/or money and/or time are tight, usability testing with just one person is an acceptable alternative to full usability testing with 7 or so people.

Usability testing case study: Heardable.com

I’m doing more and more usability testing with just one person, and you know what, it works really well!

Case in point: I recently used a usability test with just one person for one of my clients: Heardable.com.

Heardable.com is a web service that enables Brands to measure and monitor critical social attributes. I like Heardable because it also provides actionable information about how to improve the attributes. I’m a big fan of actionable and useful data, so I’m a big fan of Heardable.

Headable.com used a 1 person usability test

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Because Heardable.com is a start-up, just like any other start-up the founders had many issues to resolve, everything from how to explain what Heardable.com is on the home page, to how to access detailed metrics and data.

Because Heardable is in public Beta, the founders asked me to help identify some potential opportunities for usability improvements. But with their resources being tight, and knowing many more changes were coming, they asked me for a low cost – very fast way to do a quick usability test.

How did I do it? Easy…

A VERY quick usability test with one person

In the quick time of only three days, I:

  • Created a Persona (it was easy, they already had very specific data on their target users)
  • Identified five critical tasks that needed testing
  • Created a usability test protocol
  • Recruited a test participant
  • Conducted the test using Morae
  • Analyzed the results
  • Edited the snippet videos showing usability improvement opportunities
  • Created the PowerPoint analysis document
  • Sent the analysis to the clients
  • Submitted my invoice for payment
  • Almost broke my arm patting myself on the back for a job well done
  • Visited my chiropractor for adjustment on that arm

The results of the usability test and analysis were excellent. The usability test found 11 potential opportunities for usability optimizations, and more than double that for recommendations the Heardable team could use to implement those potential optimizations.

Could additional test participants have found more issues? You bet. But the point is with the limited time / resources / money available, this test provided them with critical usability information that is actionable – and can make a big difference for long term improvement.

Conclusion: usability testing with 1 person works well:

So what am I saying here?

I’m saying ANY usability testing is way, way better than no usability testing.

I’m saying the ability to conduct usability testing in a matter of days (not weeks) is powerful.

I’m saying the ability to conduct usability testing for low cost (not the cost of a mid-size car) is a significant reality.

And I’m saying the ability to conduct usability testing that provides actionable and useful information that can be used NOW is brilliant, because it enables a company to improve the usability, thus ROI of their web site or application in near real-time.

What’s to not love?

The very smart founders of Heardable know that usability testing, ANY usability testing, even testing with just one person, is way better than no usability testing.

Now you do too. So what are you gonna do about it?

Feel free to contact me if you want more information about how a usability test with just one person can help improve your web site’s ROI.


  1. Usability is very important, and so therefore is usability testing! It doesn’t have to cost the earth and there are lots of cheap usability testing tools out there.

  2. Hi Craig,

    I recently did a review at my blog of Steve Krug’s latest book, Rocket Surgery Made Easy, which is all about why and how to do quick, inexpensive usability tests… so I agree with you, and Steve Krug probably would agree with you.

    But if you’re going to go through all the upfront work of a persona and recruiting… why not run 3 people?

    And if it is possible to use people from a general population (i.e., you don’t have to recruit accountants or lawyers, or someone who uses a Blackberry), then I would use a quick testing service like usertesting.com and in 3 days time you could easily run 6 people through testing, yes?

  3. Susan,

    Good points. The reason I had to run only one person through moderated testing is because that’s all the time/money/resources the client had – 3 participants would have been over budget.

    Usertesting would not be as an effective tool in this case. I like usertesting for general unmoderated testing, but wouldn’t use it in place of moderated testing, especially when I can be in person to conduct the 1-on-1 test. Usertesting.com is fine for observing behavior, but being able to follow-up and ask additional probing questions of the participant while the test is occurring is for me the best way to get the detailed “why” data from a set of tests.

    Also, for this test, I had a very specific set of people, thus Persona, that represented the typical users for heardable, so general people such as with usertesting didn’t work in this case.

    The important thing to remember I think is that even a moderated performance-based usability test with just one person can provide loads of useful usability data, and can be done amazingly quickly, relatively cheaply and effectively. Yes, I always try to obtain 7 or so users for moderated testing, but when I can’t, I’ll go with whatever I can – even if it’s just one person.

    Hopefully other usability fans reading this will feel more confident about testing with a smaller set of users when faced with time/resource/cost constraints. Like the gurus say – any usability testing is better than no usability testing!

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