Usability studies do not need to be done face-to-face. If your product is digital (e.g., a mobile or desktop app or a Web site) you can save money and effort by running remote usability studies, which are run over the Internet using an application-sharing tool such as Zoom, WebEx or FocusVision. During a remote session the team observes the study from the comfort of their office from any location on earth that has high-speed Internet. If you are running the session in a foreign language a translator provides simultaneous translation through a separate phone line.
To view the session, the team logs into the application sharing tool in the same way they’d attend an online business meeting. However, with remote studies the moderator interacts with the participant who is showing their screen and has their Web cam active. You see the person’s screen or mobile device as well as all of their interactions. Through their webcam you hear the tone of the participant’s voice as they provide feedback and see their facial expressions as they interact with your product.
In addition to adjusting for time zone differences, with international remote usability studies you need to attend to other important logistics. Check to make sure that you meet the host country’s legal requirements around protecting personally identifiable information. These requirements are quite strict in Europe. Internet availability and speed vary by country.
Other logistics are the same as running remote studies in the developed world. Internet connections can be tricky. During recruitment verify the adequacy of the participant’s Internet service by asking them to test the speed of the network from the computer/device they will be using during the remote usability study. Have them sign into the Web conferencing system, from within your firewall, to ensure their computer is set up with the necessary plug ins. In this way you can get right down to business as soon as the remote session begins. You don’t want to waste precious minutes setting up the connection. E-mail the task list to the participant immediately before their session is scheduled to start so the tasks will be fresh.
There are many benefits to doing usability studies remotely. You save money on travel and facility rental. There is no limit to the number of observers you can invite. If your product is mobile or web-based, you see real people using it in their natural environment, so you get a better sense of how the digital product fits into their world. You see how the design looks on their screen. Web-based setups offer anonymity so they tend to be less stressful for the participant.
However, there are a few downsides to remote usability testing. Your sample will be skewed towards more-affluent tech-savvy people who have high-speed Internet. Because you are meeting the participant virtually you don’t see their body language or have the chance to meet them in person. You lose the opportunity to experience the overall target culture through your travels. However, if you and are short on time or money or if you want to avoid travel the benefits of going remote for global user experience studies often outweigh the negatives.