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Jul 2007

Usability testing: on-site or remote?

How is usability testing different when done on-site instead of remote? Here is a list to help you weigh the pros and cons of each method.



  • Better performance for testing different interactive systems (web, software, mobility, interactive TV, vocal interfaces, etc.) and eye tracking techniques
  • All participants are accomplishing the same tasks in the same environment, resulting in more stable performance data
  • Technical set-up for the tests is easier
  • By being on-site, the moderator can stay close to the participant and observe non-verbal behavior, hesitations and react quickly
  • Audio and video, especially facial expressions are recorded
  • The Client has the opportunity to observe users in real-time. It also allows them to take a break from their busy schedule to recharge and learn about their users first-hand


  • Knowing he is being watched, the participant’s behavior might be influenced by a desire to perform well, despite assurances that they are not being tested
  • Recruitment can be difficult because there are many marketing research companies asking for people to participate in surveys
  • The pool of potential participants is limited to the local population otherwise, the usability experts need to travel
  • Absenteeism rate is higher because participants have to travel to the site of the test. Other factors include weather, workload and last-minute cancellations after work, etc., might affect attendance)



  • The participant is in his natural habitat, at home or at work, in a real-life situation
  • The technology allows for tests to be conducted anywhere in the world and in the participant’s first language
  • The participant is more comfortable because he is working with familiar equipment or technology
  • The participant seems less stressed, is acting more like his usual self, and is possibly less tolerant
  • The moderator can still see everything the participant is doing on screen and hear what he is saying
  • The moderator gets a glimpse of the participant’s private life through the use of shared screens
  • The client can observe the tests from a remote location
  • The sytem allows for a complete recording of screen interactions and audio
  • Recruitment is easier because, having eliminated the traveling factor, pool is not limited to the local population


  • Logistical elements are greater in terms of technical requirements. We need to do more pre-testing and use more internal resources
  • Last minute or uncontrollable technical problems are more likely
  • High speed bandwidth is essential to avoid long delays
  • The use of a cellular phone for capturing audio is not ideal and the use of a hands-free landline is recommended
  • Planning is more complicated because of timezones
  • It’s harder for a participant to explain what he is doing or feeling when discussions between the moderator and the participant is in the participant’s second or third language
  • It’s impossible to record non-verbal behavior

Either way, don’t stop testing your products with users, their feedback is too important to leave it out!

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