Lab based, Remote and Unmoderated Usability Testing

Lab based, Remote and Unmoderated Usability Testing

What is the best approach for usability testing? At the moment, there are three main options for conducting usability test research studies: lab based, moderated remote sessions and unmoderated remote sessions.

Lab based Usability Testing

Lab testing: this is the oldest and still most common way to conduct a usability test. The participant and facilitator are in the same room with an observation room either next to this room (with or without a one way mirror between the rooms) or connected to the test room through video/audio connection.

One main advantage is that the facilitator is able to get the richest data from the participant as they are in the room with them. Another advantage is the observation of the sessions by designers, developers and management first hand. Nothing is as powerful to see a user struggle right then and there.

A disadvantage is that the participant needs to travel to the test location, making it sometimes harder to find the best participants.

Moderated Remote Usability Testing

Remote testing: a technique that is used more and more, here the facilitator is not in the same room as the participant but facilitates the session through telephone and a web conference tool. Such a tool allows the computer desktop to be shared, thus allowing for the facilitator to observe what the participant is doing while talking over the phone.

Advantage of this approach is that the participant doesn’t need to travel and allows for a larger spread of locations that can be tested. A disadvantage is that although the data is still rich, it is not the same as when the facilitator is in the room while moderating the session. Also, any observations are less direct than with an observation room close to the test room.

Unmoderated Usability Testing

Unmoderated testing: still in its infancy and somewhat debated, but growing still. This is a variant of remote testing where there is no facilitator to moderate the session, but instead the participant is given a wizard type guide (usually web based) to go through the tasks and self report their success rate, answers to specific questions and other feedback.

The key advantage here is that the number of participants can significantly increase as it has the reach of an online survey (where there can be responses in the thousands) in a relatively short time.

One major disadvantage is that the data is self reported, taking away a major characteristic of usability testing. In usability testing it is about the behaviour, but if the behaviour is not directly observed anymore but self reported by the user then it decreases the validity of the data.

Our Recommendation

Akendi recommends lab based usability testing over remote usability testing and unmoderated usability testing where possible, lab based usability testing provides the richest data relating to user performance and success rates. Remote usability testing would be in a firm second place.

Tedde van Gelderen  is President at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visitwww.akendi.com.

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