Tips for Moderated Remote Usability Research

August 29, 2016
Matt Wallens

4356845299_29ca35c3e8_bRemote User Research

Remote user testing is an economical way to conduct research when getting in front of a live human isn’t economically or logistically feasible. I’ve focused this post on moderated usability tests, where as a researcher you’re actively involved in the test session. For unmoderated tests or interviews, using a service such a usertesting.com may be a better option.

Most aspects of a remote test should follow your process for in-person testing as far as recruiting, creating a test plan and analyzing your data. Where things get tricky is in the logistics.

Equipment

You’ll want a good headset so and, more importantly, a good microphone so the participant can hear you. Chances are the participant will not have great equipment so it’s  best to overcompensate but getting yourself better than average hardware.

Environment

Plan to use a quiet space. If you work from home, that means out of earshot of TVs, loud humans, and power tools. If you’re in an office, find an empty conference room or anywhere where noise is minimal. Remember that external noises that you don’t notice can come across loud and clear on a phone call. Find a private room where you can control the environment, like you’d do with an in-person study.

Similarly, ask your participants to kindly find a quiet place for themselves. This may be more difficult for them, but if you mention it while scheduling your sessions, you’ll at least give them time to try to find a good location.

Consent

You will still need to get the participant’s consent even if you’re not in the same place. Aside from having the participant digitally sign a consent form, have them read your consent form and verbally agree while you’re recording them (let them know you’re recording).

Timing

Watch the clock and keep each session under an hour. 45 minutes is the practical maximum for keeping participants attentive and engaged on the phone.

Expect to spend time getting the participant connected with your screensharing software, too. Sometimes it’ll take a good 10-15 minutes and may require rescheduling if additional time is needed.

Software

Speaking of screensharing software, I don’t think there’s any one perfect solution, but here are the applications I’ve used that support audio and screen sharing, along with some pro’s and con’s, in order of my preference.
Google Hangouts – Free. You and your participant will need to have a Gmail account.
Skype – Free. You and your participant will need to have a Gmail account.
Uberconference – Free. You and your participant will need to use Chrome.
GotoMeeting – Not free. Your participant will have to install software (a GotoMeeting plugin).

Recording

Screenflow is my preferred application for recording my sessions because it supports audio recording from multiple inputs, screen recording and editing. The one piece of the process it fails on for me is creating clips. There are clumsy workarounds but it’s far from ideal for that.

Camtasia does the same, and more, but is much more expensive.

Scheduling

Scheduling can be a little tricky, especially if you’re planning to do many interviews over a short period of time. Chances are your schedule will be constantly changing.  Youcanbook.me is a handy site that syncs with your calendar and lets participants find and select times for their session based on your availability. There’s less back and forth via emails this way. Whatever method you use, remember to set up reminders and to be careful about timezones. Like in-person interviews, leave time between sessions to reset your equipment and prototype.

Honorariums

I like to use Amazon gift cards for honorariums. They’re free and commonly accepted. If you prefer not to use Amazon, other reliable and free options are PayPal and Square, though to me, Amazon cards feel more legit.

Follow up

If you want to do a follow up survey or a SUS evaluation, Google Docs is a handy tool. Again, it’s free and provides some basic analytics, too.

image credit: Greg Balzer