How to nail your first remote usability test
Covid-19 has impacted our work life and forced most of the digital workforce to adapt and change routines, making us spend more time home and not at the office. While working from home may be challenging, it’s also a time for innovation and the perfect time to get started with remote usability testing. This blog post is for those of you who want to transition from face to face usability tests to running remote usability tests over video software.
Benefits of remote user testing
Remote usability testing is a method we can use to conduct usability tests of our prototypes and concepts. Using video software to meet users and watch them solve tasks gives us valuable feedback which we can use to iterate and improve our solutions, without meeting in person. A video meeting can offer a lower threshold for users to join since the meeting is only a click away. The fact that you are not bound by a location means that users from literally all over the world could potentially participate. It’s also time effective because you remove the time spent travelling to a physical meeting location. Lastly, it’s quite simple to set up if you already have the basic equipment.
How to get started
First of all, you need to set a time and date for your user test, and decide how many you want to participate. It could be wise starting to plan some weeks ahead to make sure you get enough participants. Although in my experience, if you have highly engaged users, they might be ready sooner than you think!
Pro tip: Clear your schedule for a few days and offer the participants to suggest a time, to cater to their schedule instead of the other way around.
When you start planning your schedule, remember to account for extra time to deal with potential technical issues, time to reset the prototype and some time to debrief with your team in between tests. PS: If you are planning to record the session, you need a written consent from the participants. This should be confirmed with the users well before the test itself.
- 5 min introduction
- 5 min for set-up and potential technical issues
- 20 min for usability test (may vary depending on your test)
- 10 min debrief with your team
- 5 min to reset everything and get ready for next session
- 15 min for a break in between test sessions
This brings the total time for one session to about 45 min. It might seem excessive, but from my personal experience it’s better to have too much time than too little!
How you go about recruiting participants can of course vary in terms of what you are planning to test, whether it’s a product with a known user base, or visiting users to a public website. It really depends if you already have contact information or not. You can call, e-mail, do a survey or post a message in your application asking for participants. I prefer email because it’s easier to keep track of the different conversations for planning your schedule, and making sure everyone gets the same information by using a template.
I suggest you consider the technical abilities of the users joining. Not everyone might be used to using video software such as Google Meet to join a video meeting. Just ensure that the platform is easy to use and doesn’t require the user to spend time downloading an app, create a profile or pay, to be able to use it. A little step by step tutorial explaining how to use the chosen software in order to join the meeting and how to allow access to microphone and webcam should do the trick.
You should recommend the users to sit in a location where they won’t be disturbed, turn off their mobile phone (if possible), use a webcam, a headset with microphone and have a stable internet connection. Believe me, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending time trying to decode what the user is saying through the internal microphone in their laptop on an unstable connection! Remember, these practical tips apply to you as well!
You should include the product owner of the project in the usability test, just in case the user has domain specific questions you don’t necessarily have the answer to. The product owner should otherwise observe and take notes so you can be the facilitator. Other stakeholders should also be invited to observe and take notes.
Pro tip: Not everyone is comfortable with a large crowd of silent observers… Invite these to another meeting and share your screen so that the number of attendees in the meeting doesn’t intimidate the users!
That way, the observers can follow along and let you know if there are any questions. However you want to solve this, make sure you inform the user of what you are doing.
How to conduct the user test
Before you jump into the test with real users, it’s highly recommended that you do a test run with an internal user to ensure that you have everything set in place and that things are running smoothly.
Now you should be ready for your first remote usability test! Your role as a facilitator is to give an introduction to the session where you iterate the purpose of the test, and introduce yourself and the product owner. Spend some time doing small talk to lighten the mood and making the participant feel comfortable. Remind the users that you are testing the prototype and not their technical abilities. As you normally would do in a face to face usability test, encourage the users to “think aloud” so you can follow along their thought process while they are solving the tasks. You can decide whether you want to send written tasks or give them orally during the test. Ask follow up questions when you see fit and help the users if they are stuck with a task. Whatever you are testing, you need to make it available to the user, e.g. an InVision prototype. At the end you should ask the users if they have any questions before you start the test. Other than that, observe and listen.
When all is said and done, thank the users for their participation. If you’re feeling generous you can give them a gift card or do something else that shows your appreciation. Then you reset the prototype and do a debrief with your team. When you finish comparing notes, you should get ready for the next test, hopefully with some time to spare to catch a break.
After the session
After a day of user testing you should spend 15–20 minutes along with your team and discuss and analyze the findings. Prioritize structuring and categorizing the findings so that you can set clear goals on what to achieve until the next meeting.
A remote usability test doesn’t have to be a hassle! Using basic equipment and focusing your attention on planning the event will make it easier for you to get started. I hope this article has encouraged you to start with remote usability testing. Together we can keep talking to our users and receive valuable feedback which results in user friendliness for all our users!