Pros and Cons of Remote & Unmoderated Research 

Is it the right thing for you?

 

 

10 November 2021

 

This month we held a webinar on how to build qualitative study designs to increase productivity. Dorota Harsbo, Lead UX Designer at Sonar shared some great tips for speeding up research while still making sure to get high quality insights by using remote methods – especially when asking consumers to do unmoderated self-tests to get quick valuable insights.

But how good are these methods, really – and can they be used by anyone, in any context? To answer these questions, we have summed up pros and cons of remote and unmoderated qualitative research methods:

Remote studies

Pros: 

Doing remote online interviews and tests can first and foremost save money and time from travelling to meet participants, or having participants travel to you. If you are interested in people within the same city, money might not be the biggest deal – but honestly, all that effort travelling back and forth is what people want to avoid, especially in 2021. 

Another reason why remote studies save time – especially in usability tests – is that you don’t have to worry about setting up the tools participants will use, even if it is just a computer. By doing that, preparation is now in the hands of participants, so you don’t need to allocate time for it before each test.

Remote studies also increase reach. The math is simple: if your research team saves time on travel and preparation, they will have more time to talk to more participants. On top of that, if you stop requiring that participants come meet you physically, you can access a much largerpool of people who are not willing to travel, but would be happy to give you feedback from the comfort of their homes. Lastly, speaking with users online makes geographical barriers irrelevant, so companies can reach their target customers almost anywhere in the world. 

Quality of your data: limiting your research to people that are willing to travel can result in speaking only with participants that don’t completely represent your target group. By increasing reach, now you are able to talk to the right people that will give you the most valuable feedback. 

Another key way in which data quality is increased in a remote setting is that, depending on your industry, you are able to watch customers use the solution in the exact setting they would normally use it; with all the distractions and external cues involved. In a usability lab, on the other hand, all these distractions are absent. This creates an artificial environment that impacts participant behavior, possibly giving you unreliable results.

Cons: 

Just like you might need external cues and distractions to mimic the environment where your product is going to be used, there are cases where it is important to have some controlled variables. For example, when testing products where safety is critical, such as a car, a usability lab or a field study are better solutions. 

 

 

Unmoderated studies

Pros: 

First, allowing participants to use your solution without a moderator can increase the quality of your results. Humans have a natural instinct to please others, and this often makes participants’ answers biased as they attempt to satisfy the researcher in front of them. For this reason, doing unmoderated studies can result in more honest and critical feedback from your users. 

On top of that, adding an unmoderated element to remote research can increase the quality of your data even more. By being able to participate in a study remotely and on their own, participants are free to do it at a time of their choice, when they feel most comfortable and motivated to give you feedback. This also allows you to reach more participants, because all the struggle of coordinating between participants’ and moderators’ agendas is gone. This gives you access to participants who otherwise would have not been able to participate in your study due to time constraints. 

Besides, imagine how many people you can now get feedback from, if you just need to share a link and wait for their answers to come in?

Cons: 

A big drawback of doing unmoderated studies is that they don’t allow for diving into unexpected topics raised by participants. This can mostly be a problem if you want to perform extensive in-depth interviews. But if that is not the goal, a good way to avoid this problem is to think carefully about all the topics that are important for your product development and make sure to include them in the task design or interview flow.

Lastly, unmoderated studies are not ideal for all target groups. In some special cases, participants might need personal help to go through a study: if you are creating a solution for illiterate individuals or small children, for example, it can definitely be better to have the assistance of a moderator.

Conclusion

Remote and unmoderated studies can be of great help for increasing research productivity, but like all research methods, they also have drawbacks. If you are dealing with a target group that needs special support when going through a study, or if your product is meant to be used in a very orderly environment, moderation and usability labs are probably the best methods for your research. But in all other cases, remote and unmoderated studies (not necessarily these two combined) can greatly reduce financial costs, time required to do research and increase your access to participants and high quality insights.

With Sonar, you are able to do remote and unmoderated research with much less effort, all in one platform. Would you like to know if that’s something for you? Reach out to us through the button below:

 

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