How to master remote UX research

Remote working is part of the new normal, but what about remote user research? Read our essential guide to get the best results.

In 2022, it's safe to say that remote UX research is where it's at.

Would you like access to millions of participants across the globe? To run a whole project from start to finish in less than a week? How about achieving colossal time and cost savings without leaving your desk? 

If this sounds up your street, you've come to the right article. Below, we'll explore everything there is to know about running super successful remote UX research and testing. 

In this how-to guide, you'll discover: 

  1. The types of remote testing you can do
  2. An in-depth overview of moderated and unmoderated testing
  3. How remote testing stacks up against in-person experiences 
  4. Some not-so-secret ingredients for remote research success  

Let's get going! 

Types of remote UX research

Thanks to advancements in software, there are tons of tests that you can perform remotely. But before we overwhelm you with ideas, let's first focus on the two main types of remote research: moderated and unmoderated. 

Moderated vs unmoderated remote research

Moderated: 

A digitalized version of the in-lab experience, where moderators observe research participants in real-time through video conferencing technology.

Just as you would in the lab, the moderator guides the user through tasks, analyzes their interactions and spoken feedback, and interjects to ask questions as necessary. The main difference, of course, is that participants and moderators don't even have to leave their homes to take part! 

Unmoderated: 

An unobserved method of gaining user feedback for websites, prototypes, and mobile apps using specialist user research platforms.

These platforms harness the power of automation to rapidly collect quantitative, qualitative, and behavioral feedback from research participants as they interact with your solution from their own devices.

The process is entirely asynchronous, meaning you get fast, accurate results without the need to watch or interact with users in real-time. 

Within both of these test types, you can use dozens of research methods: A/B testing, tree testing, and card sorting, to name a few.

The next question, of course, is: which type should you go for? 

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method.  

Remote moderated testing

Benefits

  • Moderators can engage with participants in a live setting, asking questions as needed to gather useful insights 
  • Empowers researchers to demonstrate the value of UX to stakeholders, who can observe sessions in real-time 
  • Finding participants in your target market is super easy, as you're not limited by your location
  • No travel expenses, refreshments, and lab maintenance means you get quality insights without the hefty price tag

Challenges 

  • Studies are time-intensive; you can only be with one person at a time
  • Your sample size will be smaller than an unmoderated remote test, meaning insights may be less statistically significant 
  • Training moderators to avoid bias and leading questions is crucial to avoiding skewed results 

Remote unmoderated testing

Benefits

  • The automatic nature of this method means you can run studies at speed and scale 
  • More participants means more valuable data, so you can make decisions with confidence 
  • Great geographical reach means you can gather insights from all over the world 
  • Superb for democratizing research in your organization since there's no need to be trained as a moderator to run a project 

Challenges 

  • You'll need a specialist software tool to conduct effective remote unmoderated testing at scale
  • Because testing happens asynchronously, you won't be able to ask your participants questions as you can in moderated environments 
  • Some participants may only take part to get the incentive at the end of their tasks, which can skew results

Ebook: Remote Moderated 101

How to get user insight from the virtual lab

Which one should you choose? 

The answer is both. We recommend a blended approach, sometimes using moderated and sometimes unmoderated, depending on the context. 

For example, let's say you'd like to enhance the online customer journey.

You could start with a moderated study, where you watch participants use your application live, and ask them spur-of-the-moment questions about their experience.

Armed with these insights, you could then run an unmoderated test to validate your proposed changes with statistically significant data.  

Is there still a place for in-person testing?

At this point, you may be considering abandoning in-person research for good. You wouldn't be alone in this. Many organizations are pivoting to remote-only research, using best-in-breed tools to create superior research programs that are efficient, accurate and cost-effective. 

While some nay-sayers may worry about the quality of data gathered in remote settings, if you've got the right software in your arsenal, this really shouldn't be an issue. In fact, we'd argue that you may get more valuable insights through remote research. After all, participants are more likely to feel at ease in their own homes than in a clinical conference room. 

Here's a handy table that compares how remote research stacks up against in-person testing based on a number of critical success factors:

Remote and in-person UX research: Critical success factors

Remember, that the route you go down is entirely up to what you feel works best in your organization. You may choose to take a hybrid approach, blending global remote studies with smaller, in-person focus groups. 

Not-so-secret ingredients for success

Transitioning from in-lab to remote user research is very exciting, but it's also an entirely different experience.

While learning from trial and error is undoubtedly invaluable, it's also helpful to familiarize yourself with best practices from people who've been in your shoes. 

With that in mind, here's some helpful guidance from our experts: 

  • Your participant's environment is more vulnerable to disruption, and that's ok! As a facilitator, if a disruption occurs during a test, make a logical call about whether the interview should continue or if you need to reschedule. 
  • Always over-recruit participants in case of last-minute dropouts. 
  • Audio quality is everything! Get your hands on the corporate credit card and purchase some noise-canceling headphones and a solid microphone. 
  • Remote research involves many different steps. Set your team up for success by creating step-by-step guidance on each phase of the process, which you can refer to as a how-to manual.
  • Test your prototypes on different devices like Mac and Sony. If this isn't possible, test your prototype with different screen resolutions to get an idea of how it may look on various devices. It's also wise to include technology screener questions to ensure your participants have the right tech.
  • Moderated studies work best when you're considerate of time zones, include a dial-in number as a backup in your email, and ensure NDAs and consent forms are signed before the session. For more on this, explore our Ebook on successfully planning and conducting Remote Moderated Research.
  • Writing great unmoderated tasks is a fine art; be direct, concise, and contextual in your instructions. You can find out more about writing a great study here.

The future of remote research is bright!

With so many benefits, it's no wonder that so many organizations are pivoting to remote moderated and unmoderated research - and we're thrilled that the UserZoom platform is supporting them. 

To learn how some of our customers are accelerating remote testing, head to our case studies hub. Want to see how UserZoom could supercharge your UX product and design decisions? Try a free demo today. 

What is remote moderated research and what do I need to prepare?

How to deliver impactful UX insight over any distance, from any location.