Remote user testing is a great way to get more research done effectively and quickly. At User Interviews, we love that it’s fast, let’s you access a pool of participants from anywhere, and doesn’t require a ton of expensive tooling to get started. But still, I wanted to throw some research at the question “What are the best, most essential tools for remote user testing?”. I talked to four researchers who had recently run remote studies to get an idea of how their process worked and what tools they used. Three researchers were conducting moderated usability tests via screen share, while one was also conducting unmoderated tests. All four researchers saw their video conferencing tool as the most important in their toolkit.
I also wanted to get an idea of what researchers use across the board, so I’ve pulled in data from our State Of User Research Report, which polled 150+ people who regularly conduct research.
At a high level, if you want to do a quick moderated user test, you’ll really only need a video conferencing tool to get the job done, along with a way to take notes or transcribe the conversation. Send participants a link or dial-in to your video conference, then ask them to share their screen as they maneuver through your prototype. If you’re running unmoderated user tests, you will also need a tool that allows your participants to access your test. Of course, you may also need a few more tools to get the job done, like a participant recruitment tool or a scheduling tool.
Since three out of the four of the researchers I talked to stressed the importance of video conferencing tools, I’ll focus largely on which of those you should trust with your remote sessions. I’ll also touch on some supplementary tools you can use and some of the most popular tools for unmoderated remote research. Our ultimate guide to UX research tools, complete with 50+ tools to make your research the best it can be, is in our Field Guide.
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Video conferencing tools are the key tool for any moderated user test or research— perfect for conducting usability tests, generative or stakeholder interviews, or if you’re building an ongoing practice of chatting with users and customers.
So which video conferencing tool should you entrust with your remote user testing sessions, dear reader? It depends on your needs, but based on my interviews with people who conduct lots of remote user research, a clear winner emerged.
Best for most user testing.
As an entirely remote company, we use Zoom daily to communicate with each other. Zoom is usually the most reliable and easiest to use tool for everyone on our 21-person team and we use it for our remote research too!
Of the four researchers I spoke with, all of them used Zoom for at least one study (some had also used other tools). The general consensus was that it was typically the most reliable and user-friendly solution. A few people mentioned the ability to dial into meetings by using a phone number as a great backup plan for interview sessions.
Zoom won in our survey as well, with 42.4% of respondents choosing Zoom as one of the methods they use to conduct research sessions. Video conferencing tools took the top three slots, with Zoom reigning supreme. Respondents were allowed to choose more than one option for this question, which also included unmoderated tools.
Naturally, I wanted to know a little more about why people love Zoom. So I went to the place everyone goes to express their life opinions: Twitter.
Zoom’s main differentiator isn’t that sexy, but it is super important: consistent quality and general “user-friendliness.” Many of the researchers I’ve spoken to expressed a preference for Zoom solely because the screen sharing button is easier to find, both for themselves, and for participants.
Zoom has other great features, like call recording and the option to transcribe your sessions. It also allows you to control the screen of the person sharing their screen, just in case you run into technical difficulties or your participant can’t find what they need. A great example of a feature you don’t know you need until you really need it. Sonya Badigian, who conducts research for an entirely remote team, turned me on to this cool feature.
Zoom has over 70 million active users, so it’s possible your target participants already have it downloaded. With a mobile app that touts all the same features as the desktop one, Zoom is also a good choice for mobile user testing. Most features are available in their free version but if you need an upgraded package, check out their pricing page.
Best for people who want a free tool most users already have installed.
Since Skype comes prepackaged in Windows computers, it’s a tool most users already have. Even if your participants aren’t using Windows, Skype has over 300 million active users worldwide. Though no one I talked to in my qualitative research said they used Skype regularly, 39.7% of respondents in our State of User Research survey said they used it to conduct research sessions.
Skype comes with many of the same features Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Hangouts have. These include things like the ability to record your conversations and screen sharing capabilities.
Skype is free for consumer use, but if you want Skype for Business, which comes with extra features, you’ll have to upgrade to Office 365. Check out all the details here.
Best for people who ❤️ their Google calendar.
Two out of the four researchers I talked to, along with 23.2% of the respondents in our State of User Research Report, had used Google Meet/Hangouts to conduct research. The researchers I spoke with applauded the user friendliness of the app, and liked that they could add links directly to their calendar and open their video chat in their web browser. Both of them, however, had the same gripe—the screen sharing button was hard to find in actual sessions.
If your whole team lives in the Googlesphere, Google Meet/Hangouts could be a great choice for you research sessions. Google Hangouts, the app version of Google Meet, is soon to be phased out. Don’t worry though, this just means your favorite Google video chatting software is moving entirely to a more business-focused web-based experience.
For people who work on GSuite accounts (business accounts managed by Google), Google Meet will remain a great web-based option for video chatting.
Because Google Meet offers web-based video conferencing, there’s no extra software for your participant to download beforehand. 4 million businesses are actively subscribed to GSuite, but, since Meet and Hangouts have been around in some form for about five years, it’s likely your participants have come across it in some form. Google Meet comes prepackaged with GSuite plans, check those out here.
Best for people who don’t want to deal with software, but may want hardware.
Of the researchers I talked to, only one used GoToMeeting regularly to conduct research, accompanied by 8% of our survey respondents. The researcher I spoke to used it because her client already used GoToMeeting for internal purposes and wanted to use it for research as well.
Of all of these options, GoToMeeting has the most robust conference room solutions. This means cameras, phones, and touch panel displays that turn your conference room into meeting heaven. So if you’re typically conducting your research with colleagues in a conference room setting and want a solution that comes with hardware, GoToMeeting may be the tool for you.
Unlike the other options in this list, GoToMeeting does not have a free tier. Check out their pricing plans here.
Of course, a video conferencing tool is not the only thing you can use to do great user testing. In my research and in our State of User Research Report, there were a few other tools that researchers used to do great remote research.
Sick of emailing back and forth with your participants to “find a time that works best for everyone?” Yeah, us too. That’s why we built scheduling right into the User Interviews interface, so you can just choose what times you’re available and your participants can choose from what’s available. Easy peasy.
But, if you’re not using User Interviews to schedule your sessions, you may need an outside tool to avoid all that back and forth. Tools like Calendly, Doodle, and YouCanBookMe help take the hassle out of scheduling sessions by allowing your participants to choose times both of you are available.
Unmoderated usability testing tools can help you run lots of tests without blocking off the time in your schedule to moderate the sessions. There are many different types of tools to do unmoderated studies, all with different capabilities.
Though no one in my research expressed specific leanings towards unmoderated tools, our State of User Research Report revealed some of the most popular tools.
Optimal Workshop specializes in tree tests, card sorts, and boasts a powerful survey tool. Many of the tools on this list, like UserTesting, Lookback, UserZoom, Validately, Loop11, TryMyUI, Userlytics, and UserBrain, specialize in recording users as they navigate through websites and prototypes. Dscout specializes in diary studies, in which participants record videos and answer questions as they navigate through tasks.
Don't miss our full list of usability testing tools, complete with pricing and user reviews.
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It doesn't matter if you're running a large study or a quick user test, you should always start by involving your whole team.