When should I use moderated usability testing?

Moderated studies have beneficial use cases throughout the design and product lifecycle. Essentially, moderated is the way to go whenever you want to have a conversation with a user and gain in-depth feedback. 

In particular, we advocate moderated testing for: 

  • Validating high-level concepts: Whether it's an early-stage prototype or just a one-page concept, you can use moderated studies to validate your ideas with people and gauge whether they're worth pursuing further. 
  • Testing complex products: Some solutions are too difficult to explain through written instructions. If you feel like you want to be 'in the room' with your user, moderated testing is your best bet. 
  • Formulating and refining your research hypotheses: A considerable part of research is developing a hypothesis about how you expect users to interact with your product - based on historical data and personas. Moderated research allows you to refine these hypotheses granularly. In the long run, this helps you create research projects that are clearly defined and rock solid.
  • Creating UX advocates: Inviting stakeholders to observe moderated sessions is a surefire way to showcase the value of usability testing. Trust us, try it. You'll be amazed at the levels of empathy your stakeholders build.  
  • Testing logged-in environments: Most websites and applications require users to create a dedicated log-in account, making it challenging to test logged-in settings. Moderated studies can help you to overcome this difficulty. For example, you can have a moderator log in and then pass control over to the tester. 

Pros 

  • Great for conducting interviews with users and gathering rich feedback about the customer journey 
  • Enables you to understand your participants' thoughts and feelings about your solution—something that isn't achievable with qualitative research methods 
  • Video-led discussions allow you to pick up on non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions, which can generate further insights 
  • You can support participants through complex tasks 

Cons

  • Testing can be lengthy and time-consuming 
  • You need to be wary of asking leading questions, which could skew your results 
  • Sample sizes are inherently smaller in moderated testing, so there's often less confidence in the data
  • Time intensive and planning heavy, this form of testing tends to be expensive