When in-lab or in-person isn’t an option.

Many companies conduct in-person or in-lab testing with users because hearing and seeing users during research sessions, and the ability to probe into the deeper “why” right there in the moment, are key to build buy in from stakeholders. Sometimes, however, this just isn’t an option.

You might have users who are geographically dispersed and you don’t have a travel budget. You might not have a lab in all the areas you’d need to test or the appropriate lab equipment. Sometimes you just simply don’t have the capacity or time to bring users into the lab and handle the logistics (directions, parking, feeding, etc.)

If your organization or team isn’t ready to part with moderated methods yet, you still have an option available –moderated research online.

What is remote moderated research?

When you do remote moderated research, also referred to as online moderated research, you are live online with participants but from your own locations, connected with screen share technology and an audio bridge.

Other than that it’s the same premise as in-person or in-lab testing. The moderator is there to ask participants questions, respond to their questions and feedback, and guide them through the tasks.

What you’ll need

To do remote moderated research you will need three main things (other than participants and a research goal):

  1. Testing software to run a study and collect data
  2. Screen share technology
  3. Phone bridge

The testing software is what is going to be collecting the quant, qual and/or behavioral data as participants go through your test. We recommend you invest in software that allows you to collect and triangulate different kinds of data and allows for the combination of different kinds of UX methodologies within a single study. This way you can collect as much data as possible with your participants and make the most out of their, and your, time. Examples of testing software are UserZoom, Loop11, UsabilityHub, UserTesting, etc.

The screen share technology is how you are going to be with your testers in the moment, and see what they see in order guide or answer their questions. Examples of screen share technologies would be GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype, etc.

The phone bridge is what allows you to hear one another. Now you might be asking– isn’t that what the screen share technology is for as well? You can use online technologies for both screen sharing and audio, but due to variations in Internet bandwidth and common technical road bumps, we recommend that for the clearest and most reliable audio connection you simply dial in with a phone.

Pros & cons

As with all research methods, remote moderated research has pros and cons that should be considered.

Pros

  • Data is on one platform (videos, behavioral data, usability metrics). You don’t have to download or upload recordings and manually match them with your notes and audio recordings.
  • Can do national and international research without the need to travel, rent lab space, or rent lab equipment.
  • You can have a large group of stakeholders listening in and observing the session regardless of where they are.
  • By using multiple moderators you can scale your moderated research to more statistically significant sample sizes.

Cons

  • Non-verbal body communication can be difficult to pick up on, and if participants don’t have access to a webcam you might not be able to see their facial expressions, either.
  • Participants need to be a certain level of tech savvy in order to operate, and sometimes troubleshoot, the different necessary kinds of technology.
  • Bandwidth might be an issue in certain parts of the US and in certain countries.

Conclusion

Remote moderated research is an important tool to consider adding to your toolbox if you’re spending a lot of time (and money) traveling in order to conduct in-person interviews, or if your users/stakeholders are spread around the globe. There will still be logistics and planning involved in your research, but with less time commitment on your end because you don’t have to worry about parking spaces, providing food, and meeting and greeting your users.

This is also particularly powerful if your organization has a newer research team and  you want to make sure that the structure/protocol of each user research engagement is consistent. Keeping everyone on the same script also allows your team to focus on the facilitation of the studies with multiple moderators, which can scale your research exponentially.