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Editor’s Note: Remote Testing: Less Time, More Reach, and More Participants

Five years ago, when the term remote testing was brought into a conversation between usability practitioners, everyone knew what it meant. The moderator of a usability test was located in the lab and the participant was not. Usually, it meant they used some kind of a conferencing, collaboration, or online meeting service that allowed the moderator to open an application on his or her desktop, share it with the remote participant, and give the participant control over the application to perform test tasks.

Today, this type of remote test environment is called a moderated, attended, or synchronous usability test. The session is moderated, the moderator attends the session, and the interaction between them is synchronous. Today, the term remote testing has been broadened (in a positive way) to the point where even an online survey may sometimes be referred to as a remote test.

This special issue of UX deals mainly with these types of remote tests. The gist behind such tests is that the moderator does not interact with test participants during the test session. Test participants work with an automated system that asks them to perform tasks, measures their performance, and asks for their self-reported metrics and comments. Other traditional face-to-face techniques also receive a remote “twist”; remote card sorting, remote focus groups, and remote field studies are the common examples.
The motivation behind all this remoteness is three-way:

  • Less time. The time saved by not being required to travel to meet users.
  • More reach. The technology we now have helps us research people from almost every part of the world.
  • More participants. The ability to reach out to more people (or “data points”) tends to give more perceived validity and reliability to our research.

If you think about it, our profession’s methodology toolkit has doubled, just by the addition of remote testing techniques.
I hope you become wiser after reading this issue. I know I have.