Does usability testing work remotely?

Usability testing can be applied in different ways. You can use a diagram maker, take a quick test with a colleague at the next table or at an office, have a mobile lab and interview a participant in their home, or you can also talk remotely with your audience – also known as remote testing.

Heuristic analysis, expert testing, usability goals, task analysis, cooperative evaluation, usability testing and cognitive pathways are just some of the methods for evaluating an interface’s usability. 

The broad term “usability testing” encompasses several interface evaluation methods. If we define the term literally, any usability evaluation method or means is a usability test.

In-person testing, as the name suggests, requires the physical presence of a UX researcher or moderator. However, remote tests are done online or over the phone.

There are two types of remote tests: moderated and unmoderated. The first type looks a lot like a usability test in a lab, the only difference is that the moderator and interviewees are not in the same room, and use a screen-sharing program to chat.

In the unmoderated format, no one is mediating the performance of the tasks, which are presented to the participant by a program.

Advantages of remote usability testing

  • Development speed is not compromised, especially when the team is working with continuous delivery cycles. The flexibility of remote testing facilitates the delivery cadence;
  • Being able to conduct usability tests from a home office (this is more important now than ever!);
  • Costs are reduced because the interviewee will have no travel expenses;
  • The participant remains in their natural environment;
  • Being able to test 100% of projects, even small improvements, remotely.
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Moderated and unmoderated usability testing

Remote, moderated usability testing is carried out via computer or phone and requires the presence of a trained moderator. 

This kind of test is ideal for choosing from a wide variety of tests, while taking advantage of the presence of the moderator, who has a range of skills and the ability to analyze deeply, answer participants’ questions, and ask follow-up questions.

These kinds of tests focus on obtaining detailed results, through direct interaction between moderators and participants. They investigate reasoning, with specific questions about the participants’ patterns of behavior.

The moderator should pay attention to the following issues:

  • Whether users are able to complete all the desired actions along the experience journey;
  • How many times the user makes a mistake (including wrong input and difficulty identifying the next steps);
  • Whether users can find what they need in an intuitive way;
  • How pleasant the experience is for users;
  • How efficiently the tasks are carried out.

Relying primarily on computer programs, unmoderated tests are a passive testing method that provides information on how users interact with a website in its “natural environment or habitat”, without direct supervision.

They work like an online survey: a specific program presents on-screen instructions, and participants navigate through the website, indicate when they have finished a task, and answer follow-up questions.

But do remote usability tests really work? Which online testing tools and platforms are best for you?

Remote testing may not be comprehensive, but it does allow you to reach a greater number of participants across different geographic locations, using fewer resources than in-person testing – making it a great option to work with.

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Different online testing tools give you the chance to remotely observe user behavior on your website. Some of these tools even allow you to pay participants to take short tests, while others monitor the behavior of real users as they interact with your platform.

It can depend on your current objectives. Usually, information is organized by card sorting or the placing of concepts on cards. This process allows participants to manipulate cards into different groups and categories. After sorting the cards, they explain their logic in a session carried out by moderators.

As for online testing tools that allow remote observation of user behavior, the 5-second test lets participants take this short period of time to look at the page, before answering questions about how they perceive the platform.

The first-click method, meanwhile, aims to assess whether users can easily identify where they need to navigate in order to complete a certain task. This is important, as it measures how long it takes people to make a decision on the website or app in question, and, consequently, whether it is intuitively structured.

One of the easiest ways to begin testing is through session recordings. This technique can help you identify usability issues, simply by watching real people interacting with pages and elements of a website or application.

As you can see, there are many ways to study and analyze the preferences and desires of your users – and usability testing helps to shorten these distances, no matter what decision you take.