How to Reduce User Stress in Remote Unmoderated Usability Testing


One of the key questions UX’ers should consider while running usability tests is how to keep their users relaxed and engaged throughout the interview. Indeed, having an effective study design can only bring you so far without your interviewees’ cooperation. 

It’s no wonder many UX scholars wrote about the subject, focusing on a plethora of techniques to calm down, break the ice and engage with users during moderated, in-person testing sessions. From tips to decorate the study venue to ice-breaking questions, nowadays there seems to be a wealth of content on the matter – and rightfully so. 

However, this is not the case for remote unmoderated usability testing: while moderated in-person studies give the chance to the interviewer to control most of the elements contributing to the interviewee’s comfort, the same cannot be said for unmoderated remote ones.

Yet, partly because of necessity, partly because of convenience, remote unmoderated usability tests have now become the new norm, opening the floodgates of UX research to many UX’ers, making studies relatively easier, cheaper and faster to run. Therefore, the need to understand what UX’er can do to ease the stress stemming from an unmoderated interview has also become quite important. 

In this article, we’ll share some tips to make sure your users are ready and fully relaxed before, during and right after their remote unmoderated usability testing sessions: as you’ll see, while some of the same tips apply for both remote and in-person testing methodologies, there are a few differences that need to be considered.

1. Reduce Stress Before a UX Testing Session

2. Reduce Stress During the Session

3. Reduce Stress After the Session

1. Setting the Stage: Reduce Stress Before a Usability Testing Session


Right off the bat, the main key source of frustration at this stage and throughout unmoderated remove sessions is the lack of clear instructions. A lot of users might start the test unaware that specific tasks or equipment may be required of them, or realising it will take longer than expected. As you won’t be there to clarify issues when they arise, you must iron out every grey area open to interpretation, specifying, among others:

– Length of the interview, both in terms of time and tasks

– Structure of the interview

– What’s required of them

– What reward(s) they may expect upon completing or participating in the interview

– How they need to answer different questions

– How to contact help for questions or support

– Data protection

As you can see, having only clear questions doesn’t quite cut it: you need to be exceptionally thorough in your instructions, from start to finish. Our pro-tip here is to put yourself in the shoes of your users and speak their language when giving out instructions. Avoid sounding preachy or condescending: they are your potential end-users and your actual target group, so if they do not or cannot understand the task at hand, it simply means you need to tweak your instructions some more. 

We want to remark that lack of clarity is not an issue concerning just individual questions or one aspect of the interviewing process. Providing clear, well-written instructions should be an all-encompassing task, necessary to guide your users throughout the testing session. Clarity should be consistent before, during and after the interview: you must follow through with your instructions, even to the point of repeating bits of information more than once – for instance, do not shy away from sharing your data protection policy more than once and do not wait until the very last moment to do it.

Another pain point is the user’s accessibility to your UX research software/platform. You need to make sure your users can access and start the test. Therefore, you must set the path leading to the interview proper with as few steps as possible. One tip here is to refrain from using downloadable software: you’re adding an extra task even before the testing takes place; rather, use online platforms to which users can access either by simply going online or by adding a browser extension.

Lastly, a hot topic most UX’ers shy away from: the reward. While we’re not going to spend too much time discussing whether and how you should reward your users for their time, you should always tell upfront what the reward consists of, and how they are going to receive it. 

2. Spring into Action: Reduce Stress During the Sesh


Your users have begun sharing their feedback. How about starting with a few ice-breakers? Have your interviewees ease any residual tension and make them familiarise with your platform; you can ask more poignant questions later on! 

That said, the biggest pain points at this stage arise from technical issues, time crunches and the risk of losing progress. Indeed, your users will get stressed – when not downright frustrated – on the off chance their progress may be lost due to a page load error or a faulty internet connection. 

Here, you can leverage the main features of remote interviews to your benefit and prevent these problems from ever happening. For example, you could allow your users to pause their interviews at any time and save / auto-save their answers as they move along. 

At the same time, you want to show your users what stage of the interview they’re at. Number your questions or add a progress bar: this will help your users to pace replies and provide them with visual aid on the progress made. 

3. After the Interview: Job Done?


This is the moment to conclude your session in style and build trust with your users. Wrap up your unmoderated remote usability testing session by repeating to your users how their feedback will be used, how they can access their reward and by informing them how they can reach you and about your data protection policy. 

Your appreciation for your users’ time and expertise needs to shine through at all times, so take advantage of this opportunity and build trust with them right ‘till the very end!

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