The Hidden Benefits of Remote Research

Last year I found myself in a rather unenviable situation: with only one week left to run usability tests for an online poetry magazine, I was experiencing incredible difficulty locating test participants who would be willing to spend as little as 30 minutes with me. The holidays were fast approaching. And although I wasn’t a fan of remote testing at the time, it became obvious I had to bite the bullet. Little did I know what a compelling option it would turn out to be. In-person usability testing is the most frequently used method of product research today, hailed as “essential” since as early as 1993. Back then Jakob Neilsen explained that “testing with real users is the most fundamental usability method …it is in some sense irreplaceable, since it provides direct information about how people use computers and what their exact problems are with the interface being tested.” Yet it’s precisely due to in-person usability testing’s prevalence that many people overlook the possibility of conducting their research remotely, in what are arguably more realistic usage contexts. In my situation, testing an online poetry journal with readers located in Australia, the US and the UK, it proved essential to include remote research. Not only was it impossible for me to travel to each location and recruit participants, it was also important to learn about — and see — each user’s behavior in their natural environment. For researchers learning about location-specific use, many will find, as I did, that remote research can prove more insightful (and therefore more effective) than its in-person counterpart. What even is…? Remote research is any...