The diffusion of screen sharing software and remote control applications is slowly changing how usability evaluations are conducting because usability experts can now interact with users geographically distant and with different cultural backgrounds. Moreover Internet and fast broadband connection strengthen the ability to deploy high quality videos and makes user observation more accurate for usability evaluators. With this premises we can define remote usability testing as a technique that exploits user home (or office!), transforming it into an usability laboratory where user observation can be done with screen sharing applications.
Conducting a remote usability test is not so different from taking a classical usability evaluation, but there some facts that have to be considered prior beginning the session regarding:
Participants to remote usability testing can be recruited through any channel used for normal usability testing, but surely the cheapest and fastest method is using online questionnaires. The online screening infact, permits the selection of users based on detailed criteria such as job title, annual revenues and geographic location. An important remark to consider in the recruiting phase is to ask participant information about their internet connection and also about their knowledge of screen sharing and remote control applications.
Normally, this phase can take three or four days to complete if questionnaire had to be prepared from scratch, but is a good habit reuse old screening questions adapting them to the current situation thus reducing effort to only one day.
Remote control software had to be preparared both for usability expert and for participants. While setting up the application for the usability expert can be quite simple, installing and configuring the software for the users can be more difficult if they haven't any knowledge or experience for this kind of programs. During recruiting is also a good idea send to participant a little document explaining in a simple way how to configure their computer and how to set up the application for the usability session.
Another solution is using collaborative or conferencing services like WebEx that permits meet with anyone, anywhere in real time over the web. Cost for this service had to be take in consideration if budget for usability tests is limited.
Conducting a remote usability test is not so different to conducting a usability session in a laboratory. Dialog with participant is performed through the phone or even using chat and messenger applications, if in this way users can feel more confortable or misunderstandings can be avoided if working with participants of foreign countries. User interaction can be viewed in the facilitator monitor thanks to the use of screen sharing capabilities peculiar of this lind of software. In all cases user interaction had to be recorded for future reference and analysis.
Some studies (for example Remote Testing versus Lab Testing) has revealed that the number of key usability findings was higher using remote usability testing rather than usability laboratory testing.
The obvious and greatest advantage of this methodology is that remote usability testing makes accessible to usability experts a large pool of participants geographically and culturally heterogeneous. Additionally this technique:
These advantages make remote usability testing more appealing than traditional usability evaluation, but there some disadvantages that have to be considered before choosing between one those two techniques. Infact, in comparison with classic methods, remote usability testing:
Remote usability testing is ideal for:
Usability testing conducted in laboratory is suitable for: