Remote Usability Testing Tips

Is remote usability testing feasible? If you’d asked that question of anyone in the field of technology a decade ago, they would have frowned and said, in a weary voice, “not really”. But, now? Now, we have technology and communications channels that weren’t really that developed back then. It’s possible, but you have to be very careful with how you handle it.

Remote usability testing, if handled well, is a very useful key. Usability testing is one of those things that can strongly benefit by way of efficiency and convenience, from not being dependent on location, just like support and CRM.

So, since convenience and efficiency is the name of the game in modern living and modern business, what are the best practices for handling usability testing remotely? Let’s take a look. There are three basic things to factor in.

#1 – Choosing a Remoting App

Unless you’re testing usability specifically of a mobile application, or a mobile web design, don’t use a mobile remoting application with a direct interface layer. Mobile bandwidth is still a little lag-y, converting between desktop and mobile screen real estate calls for a lot of dragging and zooming that will frustrate you and slow you down, and the power of mobile devices, while growing quickly, is still somewhat limited.

Choose a solid program for this that allows users who are remotely accessing a design to not need to zoom, and that can display the construct in native resolution with impeccable visual quality. Usability is partly visual, so any artifacts or degradation of the interface over remote systems could give false positives on design flaws, as well as reaction proficiency!

#2 – Use a Framework for Communication

When using remote testing, this can also include multiple testers from various locations working together online, not in a computer lab somewhere. In fact, nowadays, that’s a de-facto guarantee really. It’s easy to just ask them to write up reports in their own words of issues and observations, and email them, instant message them or something similar.

Well, despite being skilled professionals, it’s a bad idea to be this loose-handed with how they submit data, because no two people think alike when not guided closely.

Use a framework such as a secure forum, a survey system or even a multi-account CMS system where they can submit their observations and logs in a pre-set format, and in which their testing assignments can be disseminated from a single source as well.

#3 – Test Delays First!

Make sure that all testers doing this remote testing do speed tests of the equipment they are testing from, and of their connections because even in this modern world of ultra-powerful devices and super-fast connections, delays are going to exist, even if they’re mere imperceptible milliseconds. Well, when a big part of usability – that being the speed and efficiency of a design – is being tested, every millisecond counts. So, make sure that any innate delays, no matter how small, that a tester has between them and what they are remotely testing, is logged, so that it can be deducted from any speed tests for usability they must report.

Remote usability testing is quite possible now, but you have to use common sense in choosing your software, communications channel and in making sure you have solid control data, because when it comes to something like this, a little unpredictability is inevitable, and not accounting for it is going to end in disaster. At least…a little disaster anyhow. And any disaster is a disaster!

Jessica Miller
Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.
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