Think out loud - the #1 type of usability testing

It's simple.

  1. You ask people to use your product/prototype to complete a task and think out loud while doing it.
  2. You sit back, listen to them and observe their thoughts without ever interrupting or guiding them.

This way you get access to their brain, their thoughts and their emotions.

Option A: Unmoderated

Unmoderated testing is when you send a link to a person and ask them to do the test and record themselves without you being the.

  • Pros: They can do it on their own time and you don't have to schedule a call with them.
  • Cons: You cannot ask them questions immediately after the test to dig deeper into specific topics you are interested about.


An example unmoderated user testing session from

Tools to use

  • Lookback (paid and pretty expensive)
  • Thinkoutloud (a free tool I am building at this moment with Scotty and will ship soon - join the waiting if you want to get access to the beta!)
  • Another way to do it is to ask your users to record themselves with one of the following tools and share with you the link of their video. To be honest this sucks cause they have to signup for a tool they don't want to use and do all the operational work for you. That's why I decided to build thinkoutloud. It's a problem I also have and there is no free or affordable tool that I can use to get my job done.

Option B: Moderated

Moderated user testing is when you are there next to the user that is testing your product or prototype. By "there" I mean either remotely through a video call or physically. Both ways work.

  • Pros: You can ask questions your user and dig deeper into any topic you want. You can also have a discussion with them after the session and learn more about how they feel and think.
  • Cons: It's more struggle to organize it and takes more time.

Example of me and Matt testing his product with my girlfriend

Example of Steve Krug testing a product with somebody else

Steve is a legend and one of my favourite ambassadors of usability and user testing. He wrote two great design books "Don't make me think" and "Rocket surgery made easy" that I totally recommend you to check out.

Tools to do it

  • Any free app that support video calls with screen sharing and call recording (zoom, skype, google meet)
  • (paid)

Tips to follow during the session

  • Start by explaining the product, and the scenario you want to test. Ask them if it was clear.
  • Tell the person you are testing with, that:
    • They should think out loud and express themselves as much as possibe.
    • You are testing the website not them. If something goes wrong it's not their fault but the website's fault.
    • There is no right or wrong. They should do whatever they feel because that's what you are interested into.
  • In case you see them struggling with something, do not correct them. Never talk to them or guide them. Just give them a task, ask them to complete it. If they get blocked still don't help them. Let them find the solution on their own and reminde them to think out loud.
  • If they start complaining about something DON'T justify yourself and explain why you designed it this way. Instead, ask them to tell you more about it. Your goal is to understand why it sucks, not to convince them that it doesn't suck.
  • Don't sell or defend your design. Just listen and observe. Your goal is to get validation and observe their feelings. If the user feels like your product sucks big time your goal is to help them say it out loud. Your goal is to help the person testing your prototype to get their emotions and thoughts out of their head. So focus on making them feeling comfortable and never defend yourself. Tell them this is not about your work. We are judging a design not the person that made it.
  • Again. Don't express your feelings! If you see them getting blocked during the test with something you designed, don't get attached to it and defend. Let them find the solution on their own and express themselves. If you defend you will lose all the insights.
  • Treat the test session as a conversation rather than an observation. Keep it friendly.
  • Use the 5 whys framework to get more insights. You don’t have to necessarily ask them why 5 times but keep in mind that it's best tool to dig deeper into specific topics. So if you feel you need more insights, even 2 or 3 whys could be enough. "Why" is the question that brings you closer to the truth. It’s the question that reveals the real reason that something happened. And sometimes the first answer to why is not the real reason. See an example.