Beyond the NPS: Measuring Perceived Usability with the SUS, NASA-TLX, and the Single Ease Question After Tasks and Usability Tests (2024)

Summary: Post-test questionnaires like the SUS measure perceived usability of an entire system; post-task scales suggest problematic parts of a design.

During usability testing, UX researchers often ask participants to provide a subjective assessment (usually in the form of a rating) of their experience using a product or a site. Instruments such as the SUS, NPS, or the task-difficulty question are among the most popular choices. However, for many new UX practitioners, the precise purpose of these tools (and the correct way to administer and analyze them) is often mysterious. What do they truly assess, and what’s the proper methodology for using them? When should they be administered — in-between tasks or at the end of the session, and why does that matter? Why would you use one of the standard questionnaires rather than create your own?

All these questionnaires represent self-reported quantitative data; they are rarely meaningful by themselves, with no performance data (such as success rates or task times) to complement them. The format for all these questionnaires is usually a rating scale: the participant is given a question, and asked to select an answer, typically on 5- or 7-point scales (we don’t recommend using a scale with more than 7 options). The actual method of collecting the data is straightforward: the questions can be administered on paper by the test facilitator, or using a digital survey tool (which is the typical method used in remote unmoderated testing). However, knowing when and why to use which questionnaire is much more elusive for many budding test facilitators.

  • Post-Task vs Post-Test Questionnaires
  • The System Usability Scale (SUS): Post-Test Assessment of Usability
  • Single Ease Question (SEQ): Post-Task Satisfaction
  • NASA-TLX: Post-Task Workload
  • Limitations of These Metrics
  • Summary

Post-Task vs Post-Test Questionnaires

There are two categories of questionnaires used during usability testing:

  1. Post-task questionnaires are completed immediately after finishing a task and capture participants’ impressions of that task. When each task is followed by one such questionnaires, there will usually be many subjective answers collected from each user, since there are usually many individual tasks in a usability-study session.
  2. Post-test questionnaires are administered at the end of a session (or after the participant has finished all the tasks pertaining to a site). They reflect how your users perceive the usability of your website or app as a whole (i.e. what their lasting, overall impressions are). User impressions of the experience as a whole are subject to the peak-end effect (that is, the most intense and last parts of the experience, either positive or negative, impact participants’ recollections and evaluations the most).

Post-task and post-test questionnaires aren’t incompatible; in fact, in most quantitative studies, it’s useful to collect both. (But be careful about tiring out your participants!) While these metrics do correlate fairly strongly, it’s not a perfect relationship; one type of quantitative data gives us a rather limited picture of the overall usability of the system, and the more metrics, the clearer the picture we can develop.

Both these types of instruments are indicators for the current state of the subjective user experience; you can use them to compare your current design against future iterations (or known industry benchmarks). These metrics do not tell you why users struggle with your design, nor do they provide direct insights as to how you can improve it. They simply are a way of keeping track of how your users feel about the experience of using your product.

It is critical to note that these questionnaires are quantitative instruments, and therefore they require larger sample sizes (typically at least 20–30 users) to be confident that their results generalize. Collecting quantitative data with small sample sizes (such as the 5 users we typically recommend during formative, qualitative usability testing) will almost certainly not generate statistically significant findings. However, if you combine a subjective rating scale with the follow-up question, Why did you give [site X] a score of [Y]? you can derive useful qualitative insights into what people feel about the design, even if you only test a handful of users. (Just don’t make a big deal about the average score.)

In most cases, we recommend using standard questionnaire over homegrown ones, since the former are supported by a lot of research to demonstrate their validity (that they actually measure what they intend to measure), reliability (that users will consistently answer the questions in the same way), and sensitivity (that they can detect meaningful differences).

The System Usability Scale (SUS): Post-Test Assessment of Usability

The most well-known questionnaire used in UX research is the System Usability Scale (SUS). The SUS has been around since the command-line interface days of the 1980s, and has been repeatedly demonstrated experimentally to be valid and reliable. It was invented by John Brooke at Digital Equipment Corporation. The SUS is a post-test instrument, given to a participant after an entire usability testing session is over (or, when testing multiple sites, like in competitive evaluations, after the participant has worked on all the tasks related to a site).

Beyond the NPS: Measuring Perceived Usability with the SUS, NASA-TLX, and the Single Ease Question After Tasks and Usability Tests (1)

The SUS is a series of 10 Likert-scale questions and produces a score from 0–100. However, the 0–100 score is not equivalent to a percentage score, such as on an exam — Jeff Sauro has done extensive benchmarking of SUS scores on many different systems, and has found an average SUS score of 68 across 500 studies. For your site’s usability to be in the top 10% of all sites, you would need a score of 80 or higher, whereas a score of 73 would place you only in the top 30%.

One of the biggest advantages to using the SUS is that it’s such an old scale that there is a large amount of industry-wide data available to help benchmark your score and understand it in context of your peers and competitors — something that less widely used survey instruments can’t provide. Be aware that the SUS correlates strongly with a much simpler metric, the single-question Net Promoter Score. They do provide different data, but for many organizations, the NPS may be more useful overall, as it’s a simpler metric to collect (one question versus SUS’s 10), and is a well-established general bellwether for the company (even if it’s not as sensitive to UX-focused concerns).

Single Ease Question (SEQ): Post-Task Satisfaction

In contrast to the SUS, post-task questionnaires are administered at the end of every task in a test session. They are useful for two big reasons:

  1. They allow you to compare which parts of your interface (or workflows) are perceived as most problematic, since you collect this data after every task.
  2. Since the task itself just concluded, it’s fresh in the participant’s mind, and therefore she is more able to provide a clear indication of her attitude toward the experience, without subsequent tasks coloring her memory.

Post-task questionnaires need to be short (1–3 questions) to interfere as little as possible with the flow of using the site in a testing session.

There are several widely used questionnaires in use; in most cases a single question instrument is the right fit for quantitative usability testing, because it takes little time and effort for participants to answer it after a task and is minimally disruptive. Since time with users is precious, it’s best to use an efficient survey instrument. More rating questions only give you marginally more insights than what you derive from a single question, so it’s better to invest your time budget in other activities, such as additional test tasks, than to ask more subjective-rating questions.

The “Single Ease Question” (SEQ) is a useful and simple version of this idea that has been experimentally validated and demonstrated as reliable, valid, and sensitive. The SEQ asks the user to rate the difficulty of the activity they just completed, from Very Easy to Very Difficult on a 7-point rating scale.

Beyond the NPS: Measuring Perceived Usability with the SUS, NASA-TLX, and the Single Ease Question After Tasks and Usability Tests (2)

The finer granularity of post-task questionnaires may suggest that they could generate more actionable findings for design teams than the coarser finding of the user’s overall impressions through a post-test instrument. However, there is less data available for comparing your SEQ results with those from other companies (and the tasks being compared would need to be comparable anyway), so you’re mainly restricted to finding out what tasks are relatively easier or harder within your own system.

NASA-TLX: Post-Task Workload

The NASA-TLX (Task Load Index) is another type of post-task questionnaire that is useful for studying complex products and tasks in healthcare, aerospace, military, and other high-consequence environments. It tends to be used less frequently in UX work, but it is the standard questionnaire used by many studies in Human Factors and Ergonomics. The NASA-TLX emerged in the 1980s, as a result of NASA’s efforts to develop an instrument for measuring the perceived workload required by the complex, highly technical tasks of aerospace crew members.

The NASA-TLX contains 6 questions that users must answer on an unlabeled 21-point scale, ranging from Very Low to Very High. Each question addresses one dimension of the perceived workload: mental demand, physical demand, time pressure, perceived success with the task, overall effort level, and frustration level. After this initial assessment, users weigh each one of the six categories they just completed, to indicate which category mattered most to what they were doing. It’s a complex instrument to score, but thankfully NASA has released the TLX as a free iOS app.

Beyond the NPS: Measuring Perceived Usability with the SUS, NASA-TLX, and the Single Ease Question After Tasks and Usability Tests (3)

While the NASA-TLX is often used as a key metric in human factors studies about complex, mission-critical systems, it can also be used in other types UX research, with a few caveats:

  1. It’s a relatively complex questionnaire that needs to be answered after every key task, and so will add a lot of time (and potential participant fatigue) to the overall test process.
  2. It can disrupt the study flow and make the experience quite a bit less natural for participants than if they progress smoothly through a test scenario.
  3. It will often require that the facilitator explain the instrument multiple times (particularly with things like the difference between effort and mental demand, for example).
  4. It is mostly helpful when studying situations where human errors are highly undesirable (healthcare, transportation, complex financial domains, and so forth).

Because of the complexity of this instrument, it’s not typically a good match for UX studies of consumer products or simple workflows. For highly complex processes, performed by trained workers, where users cannot choose which application they use and errors have high consequences, the NASA-TLX is the questionnaire of choice. Like the SUS, the NASA-TLX has published many studies and industry benchmarks to help you understand the scores in context, and to be able to meaningfully compare them to those of competitors.

Limitations of These Metrics

All the various satisfaction metrics discussed in this article suffer from the following limitations:

  1. They are self-reported data, which can be unreliable.
  2. They measure subjective user perception, not objective performance. While there is some correlation between satisfaction and objective performance metrics (like task completion rates, time on task, or errors), satisfaction metrics usually tell a clearer story when combined with performance metrics.
  3. These metrics tell you what the user’s satisfaction level was, but do not pinpoint any weaknesses or strengths of the experience (or what you can change to improve it). Moreover, each participant may have a wildly different sense of what a 5 out of 7, for example, means.
  4. Like all quantitative metrics, low sample sizes (like the 5 users we typically recommend for each round of qualitative usability testing) are unlikely to provide statistically significant or meaningful results. Numeric data from 5 users should not inform design decisions, and reporting numbers collected with such a small sample is highly misleading.

Summary

Self-reported data that addresses users’ satisfaction and perception of usability is often collected in quantitative studies together with other types of performance measures. Three popular instruments are: the post-test System Usability Scale (SUS), which provides helpful information about a user’s takeaways and overall experience; the post-task Single Ease Question (SEQ), which offers information about the usability of different task flows; and the post-task NASA-TLX, which is appropriate for measuring workload in complex, mission-critical tasks. Since all of these are quantitative measures, they require a reasonably large sample size to provide valid measurements.

For most practical UX research, we recommend simple satisfaction questionnaires, with as few questions as possible. The question to ask depends on your research goals:

  1. In most formative, qualitative studies:
    • Ask How satisfied were you with this website? plus the follow-up question of Why did you give a score of [X]? This will give you insights into whatever aspects of the user experience matters most to your users’ satisfaction, which is the main thing to learn from subjective user feedback.
    • If you’re specifically interested in the usability of the individual components of the UI, use the Single Ease Question after each task and ask users to explain their score. (However, usually it’s more accurate to judge the usability of design elements through direct observation than from subjective scores.)
  2. For summative quantitative studies meant to benchmark the usability of your site (either by comparing it with its other design iterations, or with competitors):
    • In most cases, use the SUS after the test and the SEQ after each task, as satisfaction metrics to complement other performance metrics such as success rates and time on task.
    • If you have the special case of complex, mission-critical workflows, replace the SEQ with NASA-TLX.
  3. If you want to assess the business impact of your user experience, ask the NPS question, How likely are you to recommend this website to a friend?
Beyond the NPS: Measuring Perceived Usability with the SUS, NASA-TLX, and the Single Ease Question After Tasks and Usability Tests (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated:

Views: 5952

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (67 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.