Conducting Remote User Testing

User testing is a great tool for understanding our users, gathering insights, and identifying possible usability issues

Global pandemic made in-house user testing almost impossible to handle, that’s why more and more designers turn their heads to remote user testing. My introduction to user testing began around 2014 when I started testing mobile app designs with friends and family members. I showed them screenshots and asked what they saw on the screen, what they thought this or that button does. After I moved to Stockholm to work full-time for Accedo in 2015, we handled in-house user testing sessions. That was a big step forward for me. People sat in a quiet room and went through clickable prototypes voicing their thoughts and feelings, meanwhile, I was taking notes. Since then it became a gold standard of gathering insights for me. However, 2020 introduced an entirely new approach for testing designs with people.

Going remote

I’ve been very accustomed to working remotely since the very beginning of my design career, though I couldn’t imagine that this way of doing things will soon become a new reality for the entire planet. Of course, lockdown changed how we do things and user testing was no exception. Previously my remote user testing sessions looked like this: I created a clickable prototype, sent someone a link to it, followed by another link to a short survey. Basically, all the valuable data I got from those surveys. This spring I took a course from a German company called Goodpatch and it helped me to level-up my user testing skills. I want to share with you the new process I adopted for remote user testing.

Toolset

  • The UI design tool of your choice (Sketch, Figma, Photoshop, etc.)
  • Prototyping tool (Invision, Marvel, Figma also works fine)
  • Zoom (for having a call)
  • Whimsical (for collecting data)

Process

First of all, you need to have the user interface that you want to be tested. It must include all the pages/screens that belong to that certain feature you want to test. These days I use either Figma or Sketch for this purpose, but you can pick whatever tool that you’re comfortable with. In my example, I will use the Bacon-o-meter app that allows users to measure their bacon consumption.

Baconometer app

When the UI is ready, it’s time to export it to any tool that allows connecting screens into clickable prototypes. For this purpose, I prefer to use Marvel app. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to connect screens or pages into a clickable prototype. Just make sure that everything works and navigates as it supposed to and go through the prototype by yourself a few times before sharing it with anyone.

I won’t cover how to find participants for your remote user testing session in this post. Even going on Twitter or Facebook and inviting people to participate is usually enough to get a few testers. Now what we need is to make sure that they installed Zoom and agreed to have a recorded call with you.

Zoom call

Over a call, you need to ask a participant to share their screen with you (and permission to record the testing session) and not hesitate to share all their feelings while going through the prototype. A good practice is to ask open questions during the process, such as “How would you do X?” or “What do you think this button does?”. This information will be super useful in the future when you will start structuring the test results and coming up with possible improvements to the UI. For taking notes and further analysis I use Whimsical – it’s a great tool that I discovered not long ago and surprisingly it is free! If you’ve forgotten to note down something in the process you can always play the recorded session afterward.

The notes are usually categorized into 4 groups: what the tester likes, what dislikes, questions asked in the process, and suggested ideas. In Whimsical we can use color-coding to define these groups.

Whimsical board

When you have conducted several testing sessions (5-6 is usually enough), it’s time to sort these notes from several people and combine them by screens going from the 1st to the last. It results in something that you can see in the next picture, where colored boxes should contain participants’ feedback.

User flow notes

Each screen in the flow gest its feedback, questions, and ideas. In the next step, we will merge similar feedback into the same boxes and assign “power” to each of them to be able to see what needs your attention in the first place. The more times a certain feedback repeats, the more dots we put on that box. Of course, here we’re more interested in problems, questions, and ideas, though positive feedback is also very important to see what you did right. For example, 3 people mentioned that your onboarding process is too long – you merge those 3 boxes into one and put 3 dots on it.

Merged boxes

From that point, it becomes clear which parts of the user interface require your immediate attention. The user testing reached its goal. If you’re the only designer in your team you can now start elaborating on these weakest points.

Conclusion

Each time you will be very surprised by what the users can find out in your “already perfect” UI. That’s the best part of user testing which allows us, designers, to improve our creations and come up with stronger solutions next time. And I know that the first time facilitating remote user testing might feel awkward, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes (like with anything). So why not give it a try?

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