How to Succeed at Remote Usability Testing

To push forward with digital transformation and keep up with the competition, we need applications and software more than ever. But, to make them great, feedback is fundamental. Usability testing involves getting users to interact with your application or website to evaluate the experience. It is the only way to get an unbiased view of whether your solution is easy to use and truly solves the problem at hand. And, with that information, you can make improvements to create the best possible end-product. But what can we do when it’s not possible to get a group of people together in a room to test our products? What if in-person tests are beyond our budget or we are limited for time? At XAM in our UX/UI Design practice, we leverage usability testing to ensure we are building applications people love.

What is Remote Usability Testing?

Remote usability testing is the process of getting user feedback with participants in their natural environment instead of a lab environment. The testing can be moderated or unmoderated. A facilitator can guide them through the testing process, watching in real-time using digital tools and answering any follow-up questions. Or, participants can be left to perform the test on their own at their own pace, following a pre-written script, with results delivered in the form of recorded videos. Either way, with participants in their natural environment, there are several advantages of remote usability testing. 

What are the Benefits of Remote Usability Testing?

Remote usability testing can make gathering user feedback a lot simpler. You are able to study more participants, quiver and at a lower cost. The benefits of remote usability testing include:

  • Cost-effective – you don’t have the logistical burden of in-lab testing, and there are no concerns over travel and scheduling. What’s more, sourcing participants is more straightforward and less time-consuming. 
  • Faster – not only do you save time on getting participants to a location, but if you are doing unmoderated testing, you don’t have interaction time to consider. 
  • Scalable – you are able to scale tests to include more participants, which will give you more confidence if you generalise the findings. 
  • Diverse – with a wide range of participants, you will have a better idea of how each group performs and can even gain geographically-relevant insights. 
  • Mobile – you can test users anywhere, anytime in real-time, as participants aren’t limited to specific locations.
  • Natural – instead of a lab-environment, participants carry out tests where they feel more comfortable, so the observer effect is reduced, and they are more likely to feel able to voice their real thoughts. 

Top Tips for Succeeding at Remote Usability Testing

Putting yourself in the shoes of your users is a vital skill. It enables you to understand what they like and dislike, what confuses them, and, importantly, what can be improved. However, to gain the best possible insight from remote usability testing, make sure you consider:

  • Volume – unfortunately, there is less commitment to remote usability testing, so there’s a chance that some of your participants won’t show. Also, some people will just be in it for the money. You can mitigate the risk by recruiting more people and filtering out anyone who you don’t think will give valuable input. 
  • Comfort – to mitigate the observer effect in moderated testing, you need participants to feel comfortable voicing their thoughts. Ensure users are aware that you are happy to tell you what they don’t like as well as what they do. 
  • Accuracy – If you’re doing unmoderated testing, the accuracy of your scripts is vital. This will guide the participants through the testing process, so there shouldn’t be any ambiguous tasks.
  • Technology – there are many digital tools that you can use for remote usability testing. Zoom enables you to record and live screen share and has a good user experience. GoToMeeting offers end-to-end encryption. However, the costs and technicality of each is different; make sure the solution you use is fit for purpose. 
  • Style – there are pros and cons to moderated and unmoderated testing. Consider how quickly you need results, whether you need to interact with participants and whether you’ll be able to deliver clear enough instructions. 

Could Remote Usability Testing Help Your Business?

In a time where getting together with our family, friends and colleagues has been more complicated than ever, remote usability testing has come into its own. If you are developing a new application, you are able to get feedback from a wider group of people in a cost-efficient way. Of course, it’s vital to get it right, and that means ensuring you recruit enough people, are able to make participants feel comfortable and that they fully understand what is being asked of them. And, of course, using the right platform can make a huge difference too. Manage all that, and you will find that you are able to drastically improve your applications without running into budget and time constraints. 

In summary, here are five ways to succeed at remote usability testing:

  1. Recruit lots of participants so that you have the greatest possible confidence in your findings.
  2. Ensure that your participants feel able to speak up and give you their honest, unfiltered view of your application.
  3. Make sure that your scripts are accurate and will avoid any ambiguity when your participants are carrying out the tests.
  4. Find the right platform for you and your users to avoid technical difficulties and any barriers to getting the best results.
  5. Choose between moderated and unmoderated testing by weighing up the pros and cons of both. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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