5 UX Case Studies where UX-Research made a huge difference

SoundCloud, Zara, Udemy, Canva and McDonald's.

Enough of just talking about the power
of UX-Research. Seeing is believing.

Enough of just talking about the power of UX-Research. Seeing is believing. I Googled and found a couple of interesting case studies of usability testing being conducted with substantial results. With simple steps and smart investment companies across all industries can achieve remarkable results with conducting usability testing.

Example #1: SoundCloud @test.io

SoundCloud is the world’s largest music and audio distribution platform, with over 175 million unique monthly listeners. In 2019, SoundCloud hired test IO, a Berlin-based usability testing agency, to conduct continuous usability testing for the SoundCloud mobile app. With SoundCloud’s rigorous development schedule, the company needed regular human user testers to make sure that all new updates work across all devices and OS versions.

The key research objectives for SoundCloud’s regular usability studies were to:

  • Provide a user-friendly listening experience for mobile app users;
  • Identify and fix software bugs before wide release;
  • Improve the mobile app development cycle.

In the very first usability tests, more than 150 usability issues (including 11 critical issues) were discovered. These issues likely wouldn’t have been discovered through internal bug testing. That is because the user testers experimented on the app from a plethora of devices and geographical locations (144 devices and 22 countries). Without remote usability testing, a testing scale as large as this would have been very difficult and expensive to achieve.

Today, SoundCloud’s mobile app looks like this:


This case study demonstrates the power of regular usability testing in products with frequent updates. 

Source: SoundCloud case study (.pdf) by test IO

ZARA is a Spanish apparel retailer company specializes in fast fashion, and products include clothing, accessories, shoes, swimwear, beauty, and perfumes. It is the largest company in the Inditex group, the world’s largest apparel retailer.

The key research done in this Zara’s usability studies were:

  • User Personas, Job Stories
  • Usability Testing
  • Affinity Map, 2×2 Analysis
  • Lo-FI UI Sketch, Hi-Fi Mock-ups
  • Prototype, follow-up Usability Testing

Usability Testing Zara Fashion

Usability Testing-zara

Source: Zara: A Usability Case Study by William Ng

Udemy is one of the world’s largest online learning platforms with over 40 million students across the world. The e-learning giant also has a massively popular smartphone app, and the usability testing example in question was aimed at the smartphone users of Udemy.

To find out when, where, and why Udemy users chose to opt for the mobile app rather than the desktop version, Udemy conducted user tests. As Udemy is a 100% digital company, they chose fully remote unmoderated user testing as their testing method. 

Test participants were asked to take small videos showing where they were located and what tasks they were focused on at the time of learning and recording. 

What the user researchers found was that their initial theory of “users prefer using the mobile app while on the go” was false. Instead, what they found was that the majority of mobile app users were stationary. Udemy users, for various reasons, used the mobile app at home on the couch, or in a cafeteria. The key findings of this user test were utilized for the next year’s product and feature development.

This is what Udemy’s mobile app looks like today:

Usability testing UX Research

This usability testing case study demonstrates that a company’s perception of target audience behavior does not always match the behavior of the real end-users. And, that is why user testing is crucial.

Source: Udemy case study by UserTesting.com

Canva is an online platform that makes graphic design accessible for everyone. It offers drag-and-drop feature and professional layouts to design consistently stunning graphics. The idea for Canva came from watching non-designers trying to use traditional design tools.

The inevitable challenge with launching a product for the first time is not having seen how people would actually use it. So they engaged UserTesting to conduct some exploratory research and discover where they could make improvements. The insights were extremely useful. The Canva team learned just how intimidating graphic design was for many people: users were scared to click much, and when they did, they struggled to know what to do next. Many struggled to create something they loved and left feeling dejected.

The feedback was unanimous: “I’m not creative enough; it’s too hard.” It wasn’t quite the fun journey Canva was hoping users would experience. It became quickly apparent that it wasn’t just the tools themselves that were preventing people from creating great designs, but also people’s own belief that they can’t design. Users’ hesitancy to jump in and explore the platform’s potential had to be overcome.

The Canva team didn’t just need to create an intuitive, easy-to-use graphic design program; they needed to empower people who weren’t graphic designers to believe they could design.

Canva + UserTesting UX Research

Giving the users a great experience in the first few moments was critical to Canva taking off. They needed to change their users’ beliefs about their own design abilities and make users feel happy and confident to click around and explore.

Based on what they learned, the Canva team optimized their onboarding experience—paying particular attention to their users’ emotional journey—in order to dispel people’s beliefs that they didn’t have the talent, skills, or creative ability to design.

They created a short introductory video to help new users visualize how easy it is to use Canva and to eliminate the preconceived notion that design products are hard to learn. They also created a series of interactive challenges to help users experience small wins, build their creative confidence, and convince them that Canva was easy to learn and fun to explore.

Their redesigned onboarding process has saved hundreds of thousands of people from struggling to use their product. Within a few minutes of using Canva, people feel confident with their abilities, understand how Canva works, and then spread the word. 

Source: Canva case study by UserTesting.com

McDonald’s is one of the world’s largest fast-food restaurant chains, with a staggering 62 million daily customers. Yet, McDonald’s was late to embrace the mobile revolution as their smartphone app launched rather recently – in August 2015. In comparison, Starbucks’ smartphone app was already a booming success and accounted for 20% of its’ overall revenue in 2015.

Considering the competition, McDonald’s had some catching up to do. Before the launch of their app in the UK, they decided to hire UK-based SimpleUsability to identify any usability problems before release. The test plan involved conducting 20 usability tests, where the task scenarios covered the entire customer journey from end-to-end. In addition to that, the test plan included 225 end-user interviews.

Not exactly a large-scale usability study considering the massive size of McDonald’s, but it turned out to be valuable nonetheless. A number of usability issues were detected during the study:

  • Poor visibility and interactivity of the call-to-action buttons;
  • Communication problems between restaurants and the smartphone app;
  • Lack of order customization and favoriting impaired the overall user experience.

Here’s what the McDonald’s mobile app looks like today:


This case study demonstrates that investing even a tiny percentage of a company’s resources into usability testing can result in meaningful insights.

Source: McDonald’s case study by SimpleUsability


Source Analysia & Alice-Crady