Usability testing is fundamental to how we do digital projects at Cancer Research UK, helping us get to our ambitious target that by 2034, 3 in 4 by people diagnosed with cancer will survive. Testing our ideas out early and often on the people who use our products and services means we save a lot of time and money and give our users what they need in the most intuitive way possible.
We do all sorts of different types of testing (A/b testing, guerilla testing and lab testing to name a few!). But what about if you don’t have the time or budget to meet people face-to-face? That’s where remote usability testing comes in. With remote usability testing, you can share what you're testing with people who are in different locations to you and ask them questions about it. It’s a great way to talk to people who may not have the time to come in to talk to you. And it means you can speak to people that don’t just live near where you work. As a national charity, this is especially important to us at Cancer Research UK.
We recently did some remote usability testing on a new version of our publications website, which allows health professionals to order leaflets and other resources to help educate the public about cancer.
User testing is a team sport so it’s useful to get a small team of people together to help organise all the tasks you’ll need to do. Our team included me (UX designer), Hayley (Product manager) and Becky (Digital producer). We were all quite flexible in the tasks we picked up and all very willing to get stuck in!
2. Know your research goals
2. Know your research goals
Before you start, it’s important to work out what you want to get out of your testing. For this session we wanted to know more about our users, and see if they could complete specific tasks when ordering resources. From these research goals we created a list of questions about the participant’s day-to-day working lives and some more specific task-based questions where we asked participants to use a prototype of the new website and tested out whether they could use it.
3. Recruit the right people
This is really important for getting meaningful results. Luckily we had a list of active users from the old website who had already signed up to hear from us. So we emailed them to ask if they’d be willing to help us improve the new site. A few people responded, so we were able to get 6 willing participants (6 is usually a good number to aim for, enough to start seeing patterns without getting too many repetitions). There are lots of other ways to find people though. In other projects we have asked our work colleagues and friends if they know the kinds of people we’re looking for. We’ve also put shout-outs on social media.
4. Write the script
Based on your research goals, you’ll know what you want to get out of the session. Now you can write the questions and tasks that will help you get the answers you need. For each task, think of a goal, the question you will ask and what a successful result looks like. Here’s an example from our session:
5. Do a dry run
Sometimes the questions you’ve written will make total sense on paper, but don’t work out when you ask them on the day. To minimize the risks of this, practice all your questions and tasks out on a member of your team who isn’t too close to the project. This is a great way to find out whether the questions make sense to someone else, and an opportunity to get your timings right.
6. Prepare the tech in advance
This bit is super-important. It’s very easy for a perfectly planned testing session to be cruelly foiled by a dodgy microphone or an out of date screen sharing subscription. For this test we used join.me to share our screens with participants. We made sure we tested both this and our own hardware (computers, microphones etc) out the day before we did the real thing.
7. Meet with the team to make sure everyone knows their roles
Once you’ve assembled your team, make sure everyone understands their roles, both in preparing for the tests and what they’ll do on the day. You’ll need to work out who will be facilitating (asking the questions) and who will be doing the note taking (Pro tip: If possible, the facilitator shouldn't be someone who's been too involved in the design, as this can bias the testing). We used google sheets for note taking, as it’s the easiest way for the whole team to share and add their notes.
8. Invite the whole team along
Invite anyone involved in the project, including your development team and any stakeholders you have. This is incredibly useful as the project progresses so you will have a shared understanding of your users and their challenges.
9. During the session – Don't forget the notes
Now’s the interesting part where you actually get to hear from your users! Make sure the note taker is taking qualitative notes (describing how the person is doing the task) and quantitative (usually a score for each task of between 1-3, based on how easily someone completed the task). Both will be very useful after the session for understanding what the pain points were.
10. After the session – get into the detail
Well done, you made it through all those interviews in one piece. Take a well deserved break, but not for too long. Now’s your opportunity to take stock of what happened. Review the session with your team. Take a look through all your qualitative and quantitative notes and make a list of what can be improved. Don’t leave it too long or you may start to forget what happened in the session.
Remote usability testing – one piece of the testing puzzle
Remote usability testing is a great way of testing out your ideas early and in this project it helped us discover insights we would have never have uncovered otherwise. But it’s just one of the many tools we use at Cancer Research UK to understand our supporters better, making them happier and helping us beat cancer sooner.