Q: What are the pros and cons of remote usability testing?

Remote usability testing is an excellent method for getting feedback when study participants, facilitators and/or observers are in different physical locations. Using web conferencing software such as WebExGoToMeeting or UserVue, remote testing enables screen sharing among everyone involved in the study. When the study participant has control of the screen (in presenter mode), everyone can see in real time what that user is doing. A simultaneous telephone conference call enables people to hear what the user says as he or she works through tasks.

This method offers convenience and can save a great deal of time and money, as you can run sessions with users anywhere in the world without incurring travel costs. It’s also useful for enabling distributed development teams to observe sessions (we’re big fans of multi-disciplinary team members observing sessions live, whenever possible).

A few downsides to remote testing should be considered. Unlike testing in person, remote testing does not let you see the expressions on a user’s face, unless the user has a webcam. Facial expressions, gestures and other body language can be important sources of data. In addition, remote tests require slightly more preparation than in-person tests. For example, you need to ask potential participants about firewalls, operating systems and other system requirements to make sure they’ll be able to access the web conferencing software. Also, the web conferencing software adds another layer of technical complexity to the session, which may frustrate or confuse less-savvy Web users.

For the most part, though, the cons of remote testing are minor when you consider the benefits.

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