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When to Outsource Usability Testing



At Normal Modes we love helping people. It’s the core of all our user research and it’s what we specialize in and it’s what we love.

Over the last several years we noticed the demand for our training services skyrocketing. More and more organizations are investing in their staff and training them to be the people who conduct usability studies. We love this trend, we really do! There’s never anything wrong with more people focusing on the user experience and learning how to assess their user experience with actual users.

Nevertheless, we’ve also noticed that investing time and resources into is not always economical or even good idea. We believe that sometimes bringing in an outside firm that can be more of an asset to you and your team than training. 

Here are a few instances when you know it’s time to outsource your usability testing:

Your team doesn’t have the resources on staff.

Organizations that don’t actively staff UX researchers have a tendency to underestimate the time and attention to detail that even small scale usability studies require. A well planned and informative usability test can be quite a large undertaking for those without established processes in place. For example, you’ll need: 

  • A test plan written, vetted, and eventually beta tested.
  • Users to be recruited and, depending on the user base, this can involve cold calling (or emailing) dozens to hundreds of users.
  • Large blocks of time to conduct individual testing sessions, which can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half each.
  • Time for reflection, take down, and set up in-between each testing session. Usually this is around 30 minutes per participant.
  • A note taker will be needed for each testing session.

After all of that, you’ll then have to decided how to analyze all that data you’ve captured. Depending on the number of customer segments, funding levels, and other miscellaneous stakeholder requirements, this can be quite a challenge. We tend to block off 6 weeks of full time work for up to 3 individuals for moderately sized usability studies and a typical schedule looks like this:

  • Phase 1: Planning & Recruiting (2-3 weeks)
  • Phase 2: Testing (1 week)
  • Phase 3: Analysis & Reporting (2 weeks)

Can your organization spare those resources? If the answer is no, then it may be time for you to consider outsourcing your usability testing.

 Your research staff doesn’t have the capacity.

Perhaps you do have the staff but not the capacity? Outsourcing your user research work can save your UX team time and also give them the key insight they need in order to complete the next big project. Since 2009, Normal Modes has been approached by more and more frequently by organizations asking us to help supplement their user experience teams and we’re always happy to oblige.

Is your team overworked or falling behind? It may be time to consider outsourcing your usability testing, even for awhile to catch up. Have a “quick” one-off project that’s important to the business, but that your team can’t handle? It may be time to call in reinforcements for short-term staff augmentation. Usability testing lends itself particularly well to short-term situations like these.

 You need to mitigate bias.

Having an unbiased 3rd party come in to conduct the research into your project's usability and overall experience can mitigate a lot of questions around bias. We have to be honest - this is the number one reason, outside of lacking in-house staff, that we're brought into projects. Oftentimes it's someone from the leadership team or product development who calls shortly before an initial product launch or redesign effort goes live.  Most of the time what they want is validation that internal assumptions and project outcomes are going to be sucessful once the project is live. 

 Your team is new to UX research work.

You’ve got the team and the motivation but you just don’t know where to start? An excellent way to understand what is involved in a usability study is to watch one being conducted (it’s how we learned!).

Or, maybe you’d just like some formal training for an added measure of confidence you’re doing it like the experts?

We believe you can learn a lot from watching a usability study being conducted. We can provide hands-on, practical training in a group or individual training sessions during which participants will develop test plans for their current projects. With training, your team can be taught how to incorporate user-centered design principles and usability testing into your project lifecycle. We’ve also trained in-house UX staffers how to conduct usability studies over the course of an actual project. Both ways work and give folks boots on the ground experience they can use in future efforts.


Did we miss a reason why you should be outsourcing your usability testing? Let us know in the comments below!

Are you interesting in conducting user research on your website or application? Normal Modes has the experience and expertise to get you the answers you need. Learn how Normal Modes can use usability testing and other user experience methodologies to answer your user research questions today.



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