230511073747usability_testing Theory

Combining In-Person and Remote Research

This article was originally and in full length published on UX Magazine.

In the early 90’s, Jakob Nielsen declared in-person user research as state of the art. “User testing with real users is the most fundamental usability method and is in some sense irreplaceable, since it provides direct information about how people use computers [...]”. Sometimes in-person user research can be logistically impractical or cost prohibitive, so remote user research is often employed as an alternative.

In-person user research has been around the longest, and is still widely used as a great way to gather feedback on websites, advertisements, or software. In-person research usually involves letting users perform tasks on a computer while asking them questions, observing their behaviors and body language, or having them think out loud.

In remote user research, on the other hand, the physical location is no longer important because the research subjects can work independently of the researchers. There are two forms of remote user research: moderated and automated. Moderated tests require the researcher to interact with the participant during the session. During automated tests, the researcher does not interfere, which allows people to participate whenever it fits their personal schedule.

Companies that specialize in user research often combine both in-person and remote user research. Some things are much harder to do remotely than in person, such as:

  • Observe and record what the user says or sees
  • Track eye movements
  • Offer a secure testing environment and keep control over confidential test materials

But there are also valuable advantages to remote user research:

  • It can be much cheaper
  • It is much faster and requires fewer resources
  • The test is taken in the context of real-world use
  • Timing data is more reliable
  • It is much easier to create a diverse test panel with participants from all over the world

However, the most interesting insights and results come from combining both remote and in-person research. In this article, I will be talking about best practices of combining in-person research with unmoderated remote research.

Ways of Combining In-Person and Remote User Research

Choosing the optimal combination of user research methods is highly case-dependent. But in general, each of the different phases in the development process has associated best practices.

In the inspiration phase of a project, broad ideas can be gathered with in-person user research. These ideas can then be verified in with remote user research.

In the design phase, flaws in the design can be detected by doing in-person user research. These flaws should then be verified and prioritized with remote research.

In the final evaluation phase, in-person user testing can be used to verify the design and collect concrete feedback. A final remote research session can be conducted to gather more general and representative feedback.
Conclusion

Both in-person and remote user research have advantages and disadvantages. There is no ultimate guide to effective user research, and the way you combine the two approaches strongly depends on the specific project and available resources. However, if resources are available, a combination of different methods has proven to be very effective.

Most of the time, it is reasonable to not conduct in-person and remote research simultaneously, but rather to do it sequentially, giving them the chance to supplement each other. In general, in-person research reveals more qualitative insights such as usability issues or new ideas. Remote research, on the other hand, is great to underpin these insights with numbers to verify and possibly generalize them.

For the full article, please visit the original publication on UX Magazine

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