There is a common opinion within the UX Research field that conducting usability testing and user interviews remotely should only be considered if in-person sessions are not possible.
I used to hold this view prior to working at FanDuel. Establishing rapport with participants is crucial to creating an environment in which they feel both relaxed about being observed whilst using a product, and comfortable providing honest feedback. I had difficulty envisioning how such rapport could be established quite as well over a video call. In my previous workplace, it was also extremely easy to set up in-person research and so over the years it became the established way of doing user research.
However, fast forward 11 months since I started my role as a UX Researcher at FanDuel, and my view now is that the first question of every research study should be, “can we do this remotely?” At FanDuel, the majority of our UX Research is conducted over video call using Zoom.
There are no doubt limitations and challenges involved in conducting user testing and interviews remotely, which should not be ignored. Some studies require close observation of contextual and non-verbal information, such as finger taps and eye movements. Additionally, challenges arise due to the technical set-up required. For example, users may have difficulty setting up the video call, have a bad wi-fi signal or suffer from mic/ camera issues. However, the research rhythm and processes at FanDuel allowed me to quickly realise the many benefits to taking the “remote first” approach to UX Research.
Involving more users
As FanDuel products are fun and entertaining to our users, many are keen to provide their feedback when given the opportunity. However, some users would find it challenging to attend in-person sessions due to factors such as living in difficult-to-reach locations, their working patterns, or restrictions to their own mobility. At FanDuel, we need to reach users all over the US who have different behaviours and needs. Conducting research remotely means we can involve a wider range of users in our design process to ensure the product is appealing and usable for all.
Process efficiencies & savings
In-person research often requires a longer set-up time than remote and is expensive in both time and money:
- Participants require additional notice about in-person studies since they need to plan a commute.
- The researcher themselves may need to book travel to be closer to the user, and a third-party venue may need booked.
- Due to the expensive nature of in-person research, such studies are more likely to require budget approval which can add on additional time.
These factors are not an issue when it comes to remote research. At FanDuel, if we need to act fast, we can book users within hours of deciding we need to test something (provided the script and prototype can be done in time!) As there is no need to worry about travel expenses and third party venues, remote research becomes a lot quicker and cheaper to conduct.
Lastly, remote studies offer more flexibility which can reduce costs and speed up the design process. With in-person studies, it can be difficult to react to no shows or cancellations when reliant on venue bookings and travel arrangements. This ultimately means the results of the study may be flawed due to low participant attendance, or that more time and money must be spent to arrange further participants. At FanDuel, remote research gives us the flexibility to react quickly to any setbacks and reschedule users for the next available day.
Honest feedback and realistic observations
My initial concern about remote research centered around the quality of feedback which would be gathered due to a lack of rapport. However, my experience has revealed quite the opposite. One key advantage of remote research is that the participant does not need to leave their natural environment. Using their own device and being around a familiar setting, makes any recounting of experiences more realistic and thus the observations just as reliable.
Being in their own environment also makes participants feel relaxed and comfortable, which I believe leads them to be more honest about their experiences. I also sense that sometimes Zoom itself creates a barrier of protection against some levels of social interaction, which makes participants more open. Participants are free to end the call at any time, stop their camera or grab a coffee whenever they please.
Last but not least, more user research!
Due to the low cost and short set-up time, we have remote user research taking place every week at FanDuel. Conducting user research remotely therefore increases both the researcher’s and company’s exposure to users. For the user researcher, this increased exposure to users improves skills such as moderating and improvising on scripts. For the company, regular user research allows for quick decision making and frequent releases which are driven by the user.
Most importantly, regular research improves a company’s UX maturity. At FanDuel, we try to make it as easy as possible for our cross-functional teams to observe research. Having regular research helps bring everyone closer to the people who are using our products. As we build more empathy with users at FanDuel, we ultimately create more satisfying and engaging products!