Remote user research was merely a substitute for in-person user research. But thanks to development and circumstance, remote usability testing has become a valuable and vital component in the design process.
As a result of technological advancements, remote participants can perform tasks as though they were physically in the room with the researcher. And the COVID-19 pandemic was a circumstance that forced UX researchers to re-evaluate their approach to conducting research studies remotely.
Product designers, developers, UX designers, and product managers can make data-driven and user-centric decisions—even if they’re conducting studies online.
This article shares practical tips for running effective remote usability tests and the benefits. So whether you want to transition to digital or are already conducting your research remotely, this user research guide will help.
How Do You Conduct User Research Remotely?
Like in-person research, you can conduct two types of UX research remotely: moderated and unmoderated. So we have provided tips that apply to both.
#1: Define Your Goals
Before you plan your study or start recruiting participants, define your objectives and goals.
A UX research objective is more than a description of what you hope to learn about your customers (or users). A well-written remote user research objective must:
- Identify and align the project’s goals
- Decide what your overall approach will be and what questions you will ask
- Determine what methods and tools will be most effective for you
- Decide what the study will achieve
While writing a well-designed and productive remote user experience test can be challenging, it is certainly possible. These five tips for writing successful objectives should help make your experience better:
- Start with the project aim in mind: Consider the project’s purpose and why you chose to do research.
- Refine and specify your objectives to make them achievable: Be specific about your goals to make them realistic and measurable.
- Always have the outcome in mind: Only then can you devise the right questions to ask throughout the research study.
- Write objectives in a way that tells a story: Break them into parts to make them readable and easier to follow.
- Agreed by all stakeholders: Ensure every stakeholder involved in the project approves the objectives to avoid miscommunication later in the process.
Ultimately, you must be flexible with your objectives as requirements and situations may change during the research project, but it is good to have a clear direction when you start.
#2: Know Your Audience
Another crucial part of remote user research is understanding the people participating in your study. When recruiting participants, you should first be clear about who your ideal participant is. Consider the skills and biases of your participants, as well as prior research you have done about your users.
For example, suppose you’re testing a new interface for a food delivery service. In that case, you may recruit users who already use food delivery services or have experience ordering food online.
You also want to consider how tech-savvy your audience may be, whether they appreciate video sessions over chat, and how they prefer to communicate during the session.
Details like this will ensure that your participants understand your test material well and feel comfortable with their experience during the research study. Remember that participants should be similar to your users; otherwise, you will not gain much value from the study.
#3: Choose The Right Remote Usability Testing Tool
So you’ve set your objectives, identified, and recruited participants, and it’s time to start conducting research studies remotely. Next, you must choose the remote usability testing tool that works for you. If you’re inexperienced with remote user research, we recommend using Userlike because it’s free (up to 100 participants) and offers features such as:
- Live chat: Communicate with your participants, ask clarifying questions, and guide your participants through the tasks.
- Recording: Record each session so you can replay vital moments during the test or review information later.
- You can export recordings to CSV and PDF: This allows you to later process and analyze the recordings for deeper insights.
It also makes sense to give participants a heads-up about the tools they’ll use for the session: It helps them get familiar with the tools and feel more at ease while conducting the tests. Plus, you won’t waste time explaining how to use the resources during the actual study.
#4: Be Warm And Neutral When Interviewing Participants
If you are conducting remote user research for the first time, you may feel unsure about how to instill trust in the relationship with your participants.
Whether you’re conducting a test online or over the phone, you want participants to have complete confidence that they are not being judged or evaluated. At this point, it’s wise to be neutral and polite.
Avoid sounding judgmental when you ask open questions (such as “What did you think?”), and stay away from closed-ended questions.
Being friendly and warm helps create a comfortable environment for your participants to share their views and trust your judgment.
#5: Create An Effective Script
A script will contain instructions for each step in the study. It can help clarify your guidelines for your participants and keep them on track.
For example, you may tell them in what order they should proceed through different steps or what button to press when responding to a question. While you do not need a script for every test, you can create one when:
- Participants have never used your research tool before: They may find it difficult to follow the study instructions otherwise.
- Participants are new to the topic or when testing an unfamiliar interface: You may need to repeat the exact instructions since user experience with unfamiliar interfaces is subjective.
- Participants need help following the steps: A script can be helpful in such scenarios.
#6: Be Engaging
Because of the nature of remote interactions, there can be many misconceptions. This is especially true for remote user research, where participants are doing you a solid by participating.
Even if they are getting compensation for their time, volunteers still take a lot of risks to be involved because they essentially let you into their private lives.
So, you must show appreciation for their participation by being engaging throughout their sessions.
Use paralanguage to show interest and encourage participation (“Interesting. Tell me more…” or simply nodding ).
#7: Welcome The Silence
As an interviewer, it is your job to create an environment where someone can tell you story after story about themselves. During your remote user research, there may be (there should be) an awkward moment of silence. You may see it as a problem and feel the need to ramble – don’t.
In a piece on the Shopify blog, Rachel Price, a senior information architect at Microsoft, said, “Let silence be intentional. As a result, you give your research participant space to process and speak with care. Ask a question, and then wait for the response. Sit in silence until it ceases to feel awkward.”
#8: Have A Backup Plan
Remote user research has its perks. But it also has its challenges – the major one is technical glitches. Make sure you factor in technical support in your UX research budget.
- Invest in quality broadband internet access and a reliable backup plan
- Check your audio and video equipment frequently before the session begins to prevent problems during the study.
- Have a pair of extra headphones, batteries, a charger, etc., handy
- Have an alternative video conferencing tool like Skype or Google Hangouts as a backup in case your primary application stops working unexpectedly.
Assess your situation and tailor your backup plan accordingly.
Remote user research has many benefits, including affordability, flexibility, and access to a more diverse range of participants. In addition, you can conduct usability tests more often.
As technology grows, so will the possibilities for conducting remote UX research and experimentation. Follow these tips and get started today.