How to Conduct Remote Research

How to Conduct Remote Research

Are you a UX researcher who mainly conducts in-person studies and you’re looking for some online alternatives to get you through this unusual period of lockdown and social distancing? Or perhaps you’re someone who is starting their path down UX enlightenment, looking to understand the benefits of remote research? Maybe you stumbled across this page by accident, in which case I argue that your so-called accident is actually fate and you should really consider incorporating UX research to improve your products (if applicable), your services (if applicable), or better yet, your overall life. 

Lofty hyperbolic claims aside, UX research is a great way to understand users, their needs, wants, expectations and attitudes; but you probably already knew that. Well did you know that Userlytics recently hosted a webinar titled “How to Conduct Remote Research” where we discussed the advantages, challenges, and best practices for in-person, remote, and unmoderated testing? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t because we’ve summarized said webinar below so that you can walk away with more options to add to your research toolkit. 

In-Person Moderated Studies 

In person moderated studies typically take place in a formal lab environment. You might have a one-way mirror that allows observers sitting in the adjacent room to see the participant and a number of cameras that allow observers to see the participant and their interactions from different angles. You can set up the testing environment to simulate a more natural setting, but at the end of the day, participants are acutely aware of the fact that they’re not actually at home. 

Some of the advantages of in-person studies include:

  • Having more control over the testing environment.
  • Physical interactions between participant, moderator, and stimuli.
  • The ease of testing with physical products/hardware.

Challenges associated with in-person studies include:

  • Limited geographic reach with regards to participants.
  • Being more expensive considering you’ll likely need to pay for plane tickets, hotels, and other accommodations. 
  • The potential bias of participants being in a corporate/lab setting.
  • Situations like the current Covid-19 pandemic where being in the same room with a stranger can be dangerous (and quite possibly illegal). 

To mitigate some of these challenges, here are some best practices we’ve come up with:

  • Greet participants prior to starting the session and ensure that they are comfortable with sharing their thoughts.
  • Stay mindful of the moderator’s body language in order to avoid introducing additional bias. 
  • Try to keep your sessions to no more than 60 minutes since participants and moderators alike will experience fatigue. 

Remote Moderated Studies

In remote moderated sessions, you still have a moderator who’s guiding the participant through the questions and tasks, but instead of the two being in the same room, participants are typically at home. The difference in environment introduces an entirely different set of advantages and challenges. 

Advantages of remote moderated studies include:

  • Less potential bias introduced by the moderator’s body language.
  • Less potential bias introduced by the corporate/lab setting.
  • The ability to test on a wider range of devices since participants will likely be using their personal smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. 
  • The ability to test with participants all across the globe. 
  • With fewer logistical challenges to overcome, remote studies are generally quicker and less expensive to complete.

Challenges of remote moderated studies include:

  • Having less control over the testing environment which can lead to distractions.
  • Inability to use more advanced testing capabilities such as blood pressure trackers, eye-tracking, etc.
  • Testing stimuli are mostly limited to software.

Best practices for remote moderated studies include:

  • Quickly familiarize participants with your platform (Zoom, Skype, Userlytics, etc.) prior to the session.
  • Consider which platforms may be inhibited by corporate firewalls (Userlytics’ no-download recorder operates from your browser, so no concerns here).

Remote Unmoderated Studies

With remote unmoderated studies, participants rely strictly on on-screen instructions that are programmed into the platform prior to the session. There’s no moderator present to steer the session and participants are completely on their own. However, because you’re not limited to the moderator’s availability, you can essentially have sessions running 24/7 and have multiple sessions running at the same time.

Advantages of remote unmoderated studies include: 

  • Shorter turnaround time for recruitment and results.
  • The ability to run larger studies with more participants.
  • Generally less expensive on a per-participant basis.
  • Highly scalable. 

Challenges of remote unmoderated studies include: 

  • Less test flexibility since there’s no moderator present to steer the session.
  • Inability to probe in unexpected or unforeseen directions.
  • Poorly worded tasks/questions may confuse participants.
  • Inability to react to technical issues in real-time.

Best practices for remote unmoderated studies include:

  • Ensure tasks/questions are clear and succinct. 
  • Use skip/branching logic to guide participants through the session.
  • Consider the amount of time a participant may spend on each task. For a 30 minute session, we recommend designing the test to take 20 minutes to complete to allow for slower participants. 

Deciding Which Method to Use

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering which method you should go with. Well, there’s no one clear way to decide which method to use because all studies are different and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. To help point you in the right direction, we came up with 3 questions you should ask yourself:

(1) Does your study involve software (app, website) or hardware (physical product)? 

In-person moderated studies are inherently better equipped to handle hardware because the moderator is in the same room as the participant which allows them to observe the physical interactions as well as stepping in when participants get stuck. Remote studies work best with software. 

(2) Which characteristic of your study is most important? Physical environment, flexibility, or logistics?

Does your study require you to physically be beside the participant in a specific environment? If so, in-person moderated studies sound like the way to go. Perhaps you’re more concerned with having the option to probe and explore certain topics. If that’s the case, you’ll want to go with a moderated study, either in-person or remote. Maybe you’re working with a limited budget, pressed for time, or looking to test with a large number of participants. If the answer to any of those questions is yes, consider running a remote unmoderated study. 

(3) Are you looking to identify opportunities (generative) or test a product (evaluative)? 

Whether it’s in-person moderated, remote moderated, or remote unmoderated, you’ll still have opportunities to conduct either generative or evaluative research. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each method and the types of studies you can run. 

Conclusion

User Experience, and particularly UX research, is a field that is constantly evolving to fit the ever-changing needs of businesses and users alike. Change is unavoidable and although situations like the Covid-19 pandemic may introduce seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the silver lining is that it forces us to explore other options and expand the ways in which we achieve our research goals. We’re fortunate to be living an age where human insights are only a click away; so why not make the most of it?  

A recording of the full webinar can be accessed here

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