UAT vs Usability Testing: Can UAT Really Replace Usability?

  • #Methodology
  • #UAT
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UAT vs Usability Testing

UAT vs usability testing have distinct roles in app development. while UAT and usability testing may seem similar, they fulfil different objectives. UAT validates functionality, while Usability Testing ensures user satisfaction. Both are integral for delivering a high-quality product.

This blog will guide about user acceptance testing vs usability testing.

What is User Acceptance Testing?

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is a critical phase in the application development process where the end-users validate whether the product meets their requirements and expectations before it is deployed. It involves real users testing the software in a simulated or actual environment to ensure that it functions as intended and meets the specified business needs. UAT typically occurs after system testing and before the final release, allowing stakeholders to identify any issues or discrepancies and provide feedback for necessary adjustments. The primary goal of UAT is to confirm that the application is ready for production and meets the needs of its intended users.

What is Usability Testing?

Usability testing is a method used in user-centered design and software development to evaluate a product's ease of use. It involves observing real users as they interact with the product to perform specific tasks, while collecting qualitative feedback on their experiences. Usability testing helps identify usability issues, such as confusing navigation, unclear instructions, or inefficient workflows, enabling developers to make necessary improvements to enhance the overall user experience.

User Acceptance Testing vs Usability Testing

There is a distinct difference between testing for bugs – UAT, or beta testing – and measuring how well users are able to interact with a design, or usability testing. When comparing UAT vs uability testing, it's crucial to recognize the unique purposes each serves in application development.

While it is important to capture how well the site technically functions in beta, it is also imperative to determine whether the product truly meets the needs and expectations of normal people and improves the customer experience. 

Illustrative Example: UAT vs Usability Testing

Picture yourself preparing for a performance of the Superbowl half-time show.  Think of UAT as an “inspection” of the lights and stage and UX testing as a “dress rehearsal.”  You need both if you want things to go smoothly.  If only UAT testing were performed, our dear entertainer can have the perfect acoustics and lighting but be thoroughly confused as to where to stand on stage and how to accommodate her fly dance moves in her specially-made outfit.

If you want your audience to have this much fun, you need both the technical setup and dress rehearsal to make it happen. Same with digital products.
If you want your audience to have this much fun, you need both the technical setup and dress rehearsal to make it happen. Same with digital products.

In this clip from the HBO show Silicon Valley, the software engineers contact their other programmer friends to test a newly developed product. The idea is to get feedback from fellow engineers who will try to break the beta version of the software and weed out any functionality issues. The product receives glowing remarks.

When the product goes to a focus group, however, it is torn apart because it is not user friendly. The user interface is impossible to navigate (the users report that they were “totally freaked out” by the UI), and the developers hadn’t picked up on this because they were too close to the code and technical side of development to think about user flows and the customer experience. As the character Monica says, “You are trying to sell the product to regular people, but you never put it in the hands of regular people.”

If it takes five users to figure out what your product is supposed to do, then it might be time for some usability testing.
If it takes five users to figure out what your product is supposed to do, then it might be time for some usability testing.

Comparing UAT and Usability Testing in Digital Product Development

Take this as a cautionary tale: UAT does not replace usability testing – an important part of UX best practices. However, both processes do have their place and time in digital product development.

Let’s look more closely at how they compare to each other. If we were performing a UAT on a purchase funnel, we would want to ensure the SSO is functioning properly, that the product is being added to the cart, that security measures have been set up for payment and that product access is working bug-free without much regard to the target audience, like the programmer friends in the Silicon Valley example. Examples of questions to ask the tester: Can you click this button? Can you hover over this drop down?

Ask your test subjects qualitative questions to understand how they interpret and move through your product.
Ask your test subjects qualitative questions to understand how they interpret and move through your product.

Which comes first? Ideally, usability testing is an activity that happens throughout the project lifecycle. However, as the project gets closer to the beta testing stage, it would be wise to complete UAT and fix any issues before running the next usability test. This would reduce the distractions – such as bugs and errors – in the site when it is sent to the participants so they can focus on usability testing tasks.

When to Conduct UAT vs Usability Testing?

Knowing when to conduct User Acceptance Testing (UAT) vs Usability Testing is crucial for ensuring a comprehensive evaluation of the app's functionality and user experience.

User Acceptance Testing (UAT)

  • Conduct UAT towards the end of the development lifecycle, after functional testing and system testing are complete.
  • Perform UAT when the app's features are fully implemented and the app is nearly ready for release.
  • Involve actual end-users or representatives from the target audience in UAT to validate whether the app meets their requirements and expectations.
  • UAT is focused on verifying that the app functions correctly according to the specified requirements and business needs.

Usability Testing

  • Usability testing can be conducted throughout the development lifecycle, starting from the early design stages and continuing until the final release.
  • Conduct usability testing iteratively as new features are implemented or design changes are made to the app.
  • Involve actual end-users in usability testing to evaluate how easily users can interact with the app and accomplish tasks.
  • Usability testing focuses on assessing the app's user interface, navigation, information architecture, and overall user experience.

In summary, conduct User Acceptance Testing (UAT) towards the end of the development lifecycle when the app's features are fully implemented and involve actual end-users to validate functionality. On the other hand, conduct Usability Testing iteratively throughout the development process to assess the app's user experience and interface design.

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Abdul Suleiman
Abdul SuleimanChief Experience Officer
Abdul Suleiman

Abdul has helped over 40 Fortune 500 companies make informed user-centered design decisions through evidence-based user research and UX best practices. As an Adjunct Professor, Abdul has taught in DePaul University’s graduate UX programs and for nine other universities.

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