Expert review vs Usability testing

SUMMARY:Usability testing and expert review are both valid methods. Leaving aside the time and the budget available, I can advise you to use one or the other method mainly depending on the objectives you want to achieve and the conditions of your product’s interface.

When it comes to improving the usability of a website or application we can find ourselves at a crossroads: conduct a series of tests on real users – usability testing – or request a review by one or more UX designers, with an expert review or UX review, as we call it here at glueglue.

Premise: the two options are not necessarily alternative to each other. In an ideal world they should be dealt with one after the other, with a direct comparison of the results of the two different approaches, but we know that reality, made of deadlines and budget limitations, rarely meets the dream world. But let’s start from the basics.

What is a usability test?

Usability testing is a method used in order to understand how usable an interface can be thanks to a series of tests conducted with real users. We usually ask a variable number of people interested in our service to try and complete specific tasks, which may vary depending on the website or application we want to test, all under observation by an expert who takes particular care during the moments when users encounter a problem.

The advantages of usability testing

Every day we hear about user-centered design, and this is not by chance. Digital products that have been able to differentiate themselves over the long term are those that gave priority to the users, considering their actual needs. See the well-known Uber, Airbnb and members, which have created industry wars by improving the lives of millions of unsatisfied users. And obviously their founders’, too. What’s better than getting feedback directly from the I’d like to sell my service to? Here are the main advantages:

  • Authenticity of the results
    If well conducted, a usability testing session leads to spontaneous and authentic results. Those are crucial in order to understand how to proceed and manage the efforts on the product.
  • Focus on specific actions
    If what you want to improve is a specific area or action, e.g. your e-commerce, watching 20 different users add a product to their cart and complete the purchase is incredibly instructive and can reveal deep and hidden problems.
  • You can say it: we are a user-centered company
    There is no user-centered company that does not ‘listen’ to its users: a usability test gives voice to the user putting him/her at the center of the process. It would also be incredibly effective and convincing if you showed the marketing department a video of a user who is not able to register.

The disadvantages of usability testing

  • High number of participants
    There are countless debates on the exact number of useful participants needed to detect an actual amount of interface problems. An NN group study reveals that with 5 participants you have the best cost / benefit ratio for this kind of test, especially if you have clear ideas on what makes more sense to test. The reality is that this number may vary significantly depending on the product that needs to be tested and its complexity.
  • Time…
    The time used to conduct a usability test may vary, but surely you will need a suitable place, a person who has already done it (hopefully at least once ..) and especially at least 5 people who actually use your service. You will then need to process the data and focus on the essence of the conducted test. Consider at least 3-4 days in total to do things right.
  • Will to listen and learn
    Obvious? Absolutely not. The mental setting of the expert who conducts the test and who then will have to ‘read’ the results within the company is of crucial importance. It is not always easy to accept reality, especially when it’s uncomfortable. The will to listen and really improve the interface are fundamental requirements for the success of the test.

What is an expert / UX review?

An expert review, or UX review of a website or application, consists of a review made by UX designers (experts) who proceed to a cross-functional analysis of the product’s functional areas, assigning a percentage score to every area and highlighting the gaps. It allows to have an overview of what concerns the best practices for general usability and to prioritize improvement actions focusing on what really matters.

The advantages of an Expert or UX review

The figure of the UX designer is increasingly transversal and let’s say it, sometimes even “fashionable”. This is the case when a person with usability, information organization and visual design skills can really make a difference. No matter how unique a service or product is, it will always have to respond to a series of standard and consolidated patterns. This is why many of the problems of an interface can be detected without particular effort by people who are involved in the matter from morning to evening. Here are the main advantages:

  • Easier times
    Depending on the type of product that needs to be tested and its variants (iOS and Android application, desktop, mobile, tablet version of a website etc) may vary but one thing is certain: a skillful team of UX designers can bring to light a huge amount of problems in less than 24 hours.
  • General view of the product
    If you have the feeling that something is not working properly but you don’t know exactly where to start, a UX review is the ideal way to start off on the right foot. It will allow you to have a global view of the state of the product and to prioritize the actions that have to be taken.
  • Reduced costs
    For what concerns costs, they may vary but we can say that a UX review will allow you to have very useful information with a few thousand Euros.

The disadvantages of the UX review

  • A matter of points of view
    The output of a UX review is based exclusively on the point of view of a group of professionals, which is not necessarily bad, but it must be considered that the user has not actually been consulted, at least directly. This means that you will have to have great confidence in the experience and opinion of the experts at hand.
  • Superficiality of the analysis
    As we said, this approach is particularly suitable when you want to have an overview of the usability of an interface. On the other hand, it will rarely give ideas regarding problems related to the typical way of use of a specific consumer in line with your target, considering the fact that users are not real customers.
  • Effective validity of the method
    Here, again, there are several methods that can be followed, here at glueglue we rely for example on hundreds of questions divided into 9 main areas to which each UX designer assigns a score. These questions must be frequently updated to actually be effective and, in this case, we can say that the method chosen to proceed is of great importance.


Usability testing and expert review are both valid methods that allow us to identify the gaps of an interface and understand how to improve them. Leaving aside the time and the budget available, I can advise you to use one or the other method mainly depending on the objectives you want to achieve and the conditions of your product’s interface.

Do you have an e-commerce that presents different problems that are not yet fully identified? Probably an expert review will be the right choice, allowing you to photograph the product’s global status of usability and indicating the areas to focus on the most.

Do you have an application that has a low user registration rate? A usability test focused on this specific aspect will allow you to thoroughly investigate this specific feature and improve it accordingly.
These are just examples of how one or the other method can help you improve the usability and the product’s overall user experience, obviously every case has its peculiarities and must be carefully evaluated.
Choosing one or the other way can really make the difference.

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