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Research & Design Strategy

Five tips for moderating remote usability studies

August 25, 2020

A lot of in-person research has been put on hold and will likely remain this way for the foreseeable future as we continue to navigate the pandemic. While some products and projects might still require in-person studies, remote studies can provide the necessary answers and insights for many. Thanks to a lot of great tools for remote collaboration and testing, product development and research sprints don’t have to stop.

At Delve, we’ve been doing remote research since before COVID-19, but these challenging times have given us a great opportunity to hone our craft. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan and execute remote research studies:

1. Test, test, test!

Just like any study, run a mock interview with a co-worker to test your discussion guide and prototypes. You might learn something is too difficult to see/read on a screen or not making sense and needs some refinement.

The last thing you want is to spend more time acting as a tech support rather than a moderator and researcher, so confirm your participants are set up to successfully participate. You can account for participants’ varying levels of tech readiness by:

  • Recruiting participants who have the technology necessary for conducting your research. Do you need to see them? Then they’ll need access to a webcam or built-in camera. Do they need to view test stimuli? They’ll need access to a screen. You might even consider if the size and type of screen matters — desktop or laptop versus a phone or tablet.
  • Including directions on how to use the conferencing software in your interview invite.
  • Scheduling a quick, five-minute test call with each participant a few days before the study to be assured they are set to go.

2. Everyone has a job

First things first, ensure your research will run smoothly by testing your tools and method. Just about everything can be tested in advance of a live study.

Just like going into the field for in-person research, it’s important that everyone has an assigned role (e.g., moderator, note-taker, photographer, prototype wrangler). The moderator already has a lot to manage as she navigates the discussion guide and customizes each conversation, so it can be especially challenging for her to field follow-up questions from remote observers. To help the moderator focus, direct questions to the second researcher or a single note-taker who can filter and consolidate questions before passing them along. Decide ahead of time how the team will communicate during the interviews (e.g., email, chat, text). One channel between the note-taker and observers and another between the note-taker and moderator is best. Choose a method that isn’t too distracting for the moderator.

12 Article Megan usability studies2
Encouraging participants to "think out loud" can help overcome the difficulties in reading body language over a screen.

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