person flopped on their bed, looking at their phone
PHOTO: Shane

We are living in a time of uncertainty where nearly everyone in the corporate world has transitioned to a work-from-home capacity. Many people, of course, are used to working from a home office and using a number of remote tools to get the work done, but this has been the exception rather than the rule.

However, when it comes to UX research, many UX professionals actually prefer remote tools. Lauren Isaacson of Curio Research says she almost always recommends remote methods, “unless the project is a secret. [Remote] is way more efficient and you get better participant diversity.”

I have personally been using remote UX methodologies for over a decade. In fact, I wrote a book about remote usability testing with Rebecca Okoroji in 2018 that provides some actionable insights and best practices, and I leverage remote UX methods alongside in-person interactions as part of my UX research toolkit. I can attest to their advantages for both generative research — during which we learn about user behavior and user expectations when interacting with a product — and evaluative research — where we put a product in front of a user to ensure it is easy to use.

That’s not to say in-person sessions don’t have their own advantages, because they certainly do. In-person sessions, for example, allow the study moderator to observe the body language of the participant. Clearly, that is not possible during a remote session. However, hesitations in speech and the tone a participant uses in a remote session communicates users’ perceptions and impressions as well. A facial video capture in a remote moderated session can help as well.

While all tools in the toolkit have pros and cons, let’s look at some of the advantages of remote methodologies that are relevant in our current times of confinement, but also extend beyond.

Increase the Reach of Your UX Studies

Remote operations make it easy to include participants from different geographical locations in the same study. Essentially, anyone with an internet connection can participate, so people from different parts of the country or world can join – from remote cities and rural areas – without the logistical complexities of having participants attend physical sessions. Remote studies can also bring a more diverse set of attendees, such as older people or those with busier jobs who may not be as inclined to travel to physical sessions. This extended reach can be very beneficial as it provides user feedback from a larger section of the target user population.

Related Article: Where Testing Fits in Your Omnichannel Experiences

Remove Device and Lab Biases

The most natural environment is the one where a study participant would normally use the product. Remote studies allow the participant to remain in their own environment and use their personally owned devices. As a result, the user feedback is more realistic. In lab sessions, the participants are often required to use equipment that is provided to them. Imagine a study on a mobile app. While providing an iPhone for participants will likely be reasonably similar to their own device, experiences on Android devices can vary significantly depending on the device manufacturer. This variation may negatively impact the user’s experience and therefore skew the feedback and results.

Related Article: User Testing Belongs in the UX Process: Here's Why

Fewer Logistics and Reduced Cost

As we touched on above, in-person interviews are heavy on logistics and cost. The need for a physical location, equipment and staff, which includes a greeter and floaters to cover for any no-shows — these expenses all add up quickly. Lab time is either expensive (rental) or scarce (lab used by several groups).

Remote research does not require travel. This is the main reason why many are turning to remote sessions under the current circumstances. Remote sessions also translate into less logistics and reduced cost, e.g. no need to compensate for travel time and no-shows are less of an issue.

It’s clear that remote studies are currently the best option — because in-person sessions are impossible — but many people may realize in the aftermath how important and valuable remote studies can truly be. They will only grow in popularity even after we are able to return to the office because they are a valuable tool in the UX research toolkit and provide researchers with more options for getting UX feedback.