Top 10 Mobile Usability Testing Methods Every QA Tester Should Know

Top 10 Mobile Usability Testing Methods Every QA Tester Should Know

The majority of business activities are happening on mobile devices. 90% of the time people spend on their phones is in mobile apps. Hence, it’s reasonable to say that creating an app for your business is a strategic way to ensure people find you easily on the internet and have more satisfying user experiences. However, before you jump right into mobile application development and app management, it’s critical to identify the importance of an app’s usability. 

Typically, usability is the key to successful mobile apps. People consider the ease of use and problem-solving tasks as two of the most critical factors in mobile phone applications. Other research also shows a direct correlation between mobile application usability and user acceptance. And the best way to evaluate the usability of mobile apps is through mobile usability testing. As a QA tester, this process will offer you valuable insights before your app development process as well as actionable optimizations afterwards. 


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What is Mobile Usability Testing?

Mobile usability testing is simply the process of simulating how an actual user would use an app. It involves testing various factors, including interface experience, performance quality, functionality, navigation, and more. An intuitive and pleasant user experience is at the heart of every app. Hence, the app development team and QA testers should always ensure an app delivers its predefined functions to drive higher customer engagement and satisfaction.  

Why Run Mobile Usability Testing? 

The primary purpose of running a mobile usability testing is to identify possible glitches to ensure it truly delivers the expected value and practicability from users. Usability testing helps to ensure that your app is adding value to your business, as well as meeting the expectations of the final users. Ensuring you have good usability for your mobile app will help your business improve customer satisfaction, decrease time on customer support, and increase your sales and revenue.

According to research, 67% of users ended up deleting a mobile app after experiencing unclear navigation and insufficient information. If your business offers apps that are used both in-house and customer facing, usability tests will help you minimize tech errors and improve end user experiences when you remotely update apps across all company-owned devices

Apart from enhancing user experiences, here’s a list of reasons why it's crucial to run a mobile app usability test before releasing it officially for public download. 

  • Identify challenges in design
  • Discover opportunities to enhance design
  • Understand your user behaviour and preferences
  • Cut down overall troubleshooting expenses and time
  • Provide delightful user experience 

What factors are involved in mobile usability testing? 

Mobile usability testing requires seamless collaboration among various elements. Before you start running variant tests, you’ll need to have clear objectives and tasks that you wish to perform. Test documents such as content form, pre and post-test questionnaires, and orientation script are also important. 

Then you’ll need to find test participants who are willing to carry out all the requested tasks. Most importantly, depending on the aspects of your mobile usability tests, QA testers also need to determine which type of mobile testing method is more appropriate to get more impartial results. 

Below are the 10 most common mobile usability testing methods every QA tester should know. 

1. Moderated Usability Testing


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A moderated testing session involves a moderator guiding participants through the test. This usually offers more in-depth results since the moderator can ask for more information and follow-up questions. Moderators can also ask participants to elaborate more on a particular response to find out how users feel about an app during different usage processes. You can have a better control of the test flow and receive more qualitative feedback.

However, there are downsides of conducting a moderated usability testing. It is usually very time-consuming and expensive for an organization to run moderated usability testing since a lot of resources have to be dedicated to a small group of people. Hence, it is recommended to run closely monitored testing like moderated ones when you want to discover the reasoning behind user behavior. If you plan to discover user behavior patterns, you can consider adopting unmoderated usability testing. 

2. Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unlike moderated testing, unmoderated usability testing requires participants to complete all the tasks by themselves, without additional instructions or interference from the moderator. Unmoderated testing is more time-effective and less costly. It is perfect for testing users’ natural context when navigating an app. And it’s most suitable if you want to run large sample studies for more quantitative testing. 

Since unmoderated testing requires little, almost no supervision, you’ll need to make sure all the instructions are clearly given prior to the test. The majority of unmoderated testing is completed remotely, making stable internet connection a top priority for the test participants’ environment. As a general rule of thumb, it’s recommended to use unmoderated usability testing to observe and measure unbiased user patterns.

3. Lab Usability Testing

Lab usability test asks participants to complete specific tasks instructed by a trained moderator within a purposely-designed laboratory. There are two rooms divided by a one-way mirrored window to allow note-takers to observe the test without being seen by participants and affect the results. The moderator will ask questions, give instructions, and reply to feedback in real-time, similar to moderated testing mentioned earlier. You may also record the session for further review and analysis afterwards.

The main advantage of lab usability testing is that it provides standardized quality control for each conducted test. This is particularly important if you plan to run comparison usability testing. In addition, lab usability testing offers extensive user information about how users are experiencing your product. You’ll be able to get more valued insights like users’ attitude, emotion, and reaction. 

Yet, lab usability testing is also very time-consuming and expensive. For one thing, you need to build a dedicated environment before running the test. For another, the test usually involves a smaller group of people, between 5-10 participants per search. Hence, you may get more qualitative analysis but not a very reflective analysis on your user base in general. 

4. Guerilla usability testing

For guerilla usability testing, participants are usually chosen randomly from a public place, like a coffee shop, mall, airport, or supermarket and asked to perform a short usability test in exchange for small rewards such as gift cards or coupons. 

Guerrilla testing is often conducted among a wide range of people that don’t have a history with a product previously. It sometimes serves as an ad-hoc test for the UI/UX team to understand the functionality and design. If you plan to collate massive qualitative data quickly, guerrilla testing is one of the methods. It gives your app more brand exposure before it actually hits the market. You can also gather more real user feedback in a less formal setting. 

Though guerrilla testing is a convenient mobile usability testing option, it’s not ideal for extensive information gathering or follow-up questions because people are usually less patient and willing to spend more than 5-10 minutes with a test. 

5. Contextual Inquiry

The contextual inquiry method refers to observing how participants interact with the product in their natural environments such as offices or homes. The researchers will then watch how participants complete a task and ask them reasons behind their actions to get a deeper understanding of the user behavior. 

This method is an excellent way to retrieve reliable information about users, including work preferences, personal behavior, and the scenarios needed for the product. These insights are essential at the initial stage of production as you’ll need as much data on personas, features requests, content, and architecture as possible. Once you release a product, you can also use contextual inquiry to test whether your design actually matches users’ needs. 

When running contextual inquiry testing, you need to ensure these four following principles:

  1. Ensure the test is conducted under the user’s natural environment
  2. Researchers should work with the test participant to answer any questions they have during the process, observe their behavior and discuss the reasons behind their actions. 
  3. Make sure your research goal and questions are clear to reach more unbiased results.
  4. During the interview, researchers should share their opinions and interpretations with the user to get a more holistic view of the entire user testing process.

6. Eye-tracking Test

Eye-tracking test is a method used to observe a users’ eye movement through a pupil tracking device. The moderator uses heatmap and pathway diagrams to analyze how users direct their attention when asked to finish a task. This testing method is particularly effective if you want to understand whether your app designs are engaging or distracting for users to navigate. It helps businesses determine which part of the mobile design is most attractive for your end users to complete a desired task. 

The downside of eye-tracking tests is the cost of equipment and software required. You will also need to hire trained technicians to help you operate the device. Eye-tracking tests usually involve a smaller group of people, therefore, the results may not be very objective.  

7. Screen Recording Test

Screen recording tests are a method of usability testing that records sessions of how users are using mobile devices to complete specific tasks instructed by a moderator. It clearly identifies the easiness and difficulties when users navigate a mobile app. With video and audio recording features, moderators can analyze user clicks, swipe movements, and opinions for more insights. 

8. Phone Interview

Phone interview is one kind of remote testing. A moderator will record and verbally instruct a participant to complete tasks on their mobile devices and collect feedback. It’s a rather cost-effective way to sample users from different geographic locations. And it’s less expensive than conducting one-on-one personal interviews. This is most recommended if you want to collect a lot of data in a shorter period of time. 


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9. Card Sorting

Card sorting mobile usability testing is a testing method that helps developers understand whether the product design is intuitive and easy-to-use by nature. In the environment of app testing, it helps the moderator determine how to make app navigation more effective and intuitive. Test participants are asked to sort virtual cards that represent various segments in the app’s navigation to make categorization easier to understand. 

With card sorting usability tests, you can uncover missing or unnecessary features from users’ sorting activities and then use this data to optimize the whole navigation of your app to make it more user-friendly. It’s also a safeguarding way to make sure the designs match with the developers’ original intention. 

10. 5 Second Test

To collect users’ first impressions of a mobile app design and reaction, QA testers may consider using a 5 second test. 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a website, so grabbing someone’s attention in the first few seconds of them viewing a design is essential. This test method helps you assess whether a mobile design can convey straightforward messages to its target audience. In the test, participants are shown an image of a landing page or screen for five seconds, and then the moderator will ask some follow-up questions for further data analysis. 

When you run a 5 second test, it’s strongly recommended to keep your target audience in mind. In addition, to reach the most ideal results, you can run A/B tests to find out the best design combination in terms of measuring the effectiveness of your communication. You could ask questions about brand trustworthiness, or distinctive queries about the design during those five seconds. 


Mobile usability testing is an integral part of your application development and management. According to Nielsen Norman Group, testing five people in one cycle reveals 85% of all usability issues. After a round, prioritize the problems and work on them, iterate, and test again. With continuous testing and optimizations, you’ll be able to deliver a highly-functional, user-friendly, and profitable app for your business. 

In addition, usability testing helps you avoid repetitive troubleshooting and reduce technical support expenses once your app is officially released into the App stores. It will also make ongoing maintenance such as app updates more effortless and minimize your IT team’s workload. 

With the right mobile usability tests, businesses can prevent themselves from releasing an app that will not sell. It will also help your app development and QA testing team design an app that perfectly matches your user expectations.