Remote Testing Basics

Amidst the current situation of the COVID-19 Pandemic, I thought I would put together some info I have learnt about remote testing, in case you urgently need to receive user feedback for a project while self-isolating!

What is remote user testing?

Remote testing is conducting user research remotely – as in, you don’t have to be present to get feedback. The idea is that you can conduct remote research from anywhere that you have internet connection…or at least, that’s what’s needed to set it up. With some forms of remote research, you can send out requirements and just simply wait for the results to come back to you!

When should I use remote testing?

Apart from when you’re on lockdown during a pandemic, there are plenty of other times when remote testing might be the best option for you:

  • If your company is trying to reach international clients/users/customers in the research: if you are an international company, you might struggle to get a representative sample by conducting in-house sessions in the UK, and presumably don’t have the funds to be paying for someone’s travel expenses from Shanghai to your London office, so it makes cost and efficiency sense to conduct research remotely
  • When you lack time/resources/people to conduct in-house testing: You don’t have to be present for some forms of remote testing. If you don’t have the time to sit through and facilitate sessions of up to an hour with people in-house, you can instead prepare the testing beforehand and then use a remote testing software to set it away. You’ll get the results when they’re ready
  • To test in a natural environment: if you wanted to check a fitness app for use in the gym, or a membership app for a shop in-house, it will be useful to allow participants to do this in their own time as they would naturally, to ensure that your results are as accurate as possible

What types of remote testing are there?

Remote testing can be quickly divided into two different types – moderated, and unmoderated. Both have their uses depending on your research project.

Moderated testing:

  • You will be there in some way to provide guidance to the participant (so you might be conducting testing remotely over Skype)
  • Includes: Remote usability testing, Skype interviews
  • Pros: Useful for more difficult concepts that might need explaining to a user, can mirror in-house testing for international clients/those who can’t take part physically
  • Cons: Might feel unnatural, so your results might not be truly representative of real user experience, and it is just as time consuming as conducting real-life testing

Unmoderated testing:

  • You are not needed to be present guide the participant, and they can complete tasks/research in their own time
  • Includes: Diary testing, remote card-sorting, surveys
  • Pros: useful for quickly gathering larger amounts of data, or when you want participants to act more naturally
  • Cons: you are not present to explain anything if a participant gets stuck, you might struggle to control certain variables/factors that could affect results, and this usually requires more preparation to run smoothly. You also won’t be able to probe answers, so might be at risk of interpreting results
Moderated and Unmoderated options in Lookback Software (linked below)

What do I need to consider?

When you’re conducting testing remotely you should be aware that you will probably need to do a lot more planning to ensure that things run smoothly. There are a lot more factors outside your control, and where this might be a good thing and lend to more accurate results for certain research exercises, it can also cause problems if you are unprepared. Make sure you really put your tasks under scrutiny and the presentation of instructions. It’s probably worth testing your test before it goes live to iron out any potential mishaps!

You should also remember that many testing rules still apply no matter whether research is conducted remotely or not. You still need to ensure representative participants, involve stakeholders and analyse results objectively based on the research gained. It’s easier when working remotely to get engrossed in research as your own project, but you still need to involve relevant people throughout the process to keep your goals in check.

Getting started

  • Think about what you want to achieve from testing, as this will help you decide what testing method is best to get the results you are after
  • Research your method, and know it inside and out – maybe even try being on the other end of your method to see how it feels to be a user and pick up on any difficulties
  • Research software available to help you conduct your research, some of my favourites are Lookback (for usability testing), Optimal Workshop (for card sorting), and Zoom (for communicating with stakeholders and/or conducting remote user interviews)
  • Finally, plan your testing while involving your stakeholders in the process and do some run throughs before sending it to your participants.

Remember your 5 P’s: Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance!

Related Links

Nielsen Norman Group Remote UX Tips (contains lots of useful further links to other related articles in here too, would highly recommend a read):

User Testing, ‘What is Remote Usability Testing?’:

UX Collective, handy steps for running a remote usability test:

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