Benefits of Unmoderated Testing

August 17, 2023

Unmoderated usability testing is a research methodology that helps teams conduct research without the presence of a live moderator. Typically, participants engage with prompts or tasks remotely through an online platform like Hubble. Not having a real-time human moderator can lead to participants not fully understanding the context behind the study and this approach may not be suitable for complex tasks or scenarios that require in-depth understanding. On the other hand, it also offers several unique advantages, such as cost-efficiency, flexibility, and the ability to reach a wider and more diverse pool of participants. While there are both pros and cons to running unmoderated studies, we’ll explore some of the key benefits to decide whether unmoderated studies are suited for your next project’s needs.

1. Cost and Time Saving

Unmoderated studies are typically more budget-friendly compared to traditional moderated studies that involve moderators to be present for each session. Once the study goes live, data can be collected relatively easier within a shorter time frame than moderated studies. In order for unmoderated studies to be successful, teams must make sure that the test is worded clearly and is easy to understand without the presence of a real-time moderator. Pilot-testing the study with another team member is strongly recommended to ensure the study flows as you expect it to.

2. Flexibility

Because unmoderated studies are conducted in a remote environment, it eliminates scheduling conflicts and enables a much broader pool of participants. As participants engage in the study or the product in their own environments, it can provide additional opportunities to observe how they interact with the product in real-world settings and get more contextual nuances. For example, one might observe the natural setup of their device and how they utilize different tool to accomplish a given task.

3. Large and Diverse Sample Size

Since participants can engage with the study remotely at their convenience, unmoderated studies can accommodate a larger and more diverse sample size than moderated studies. With the remote setup, it’s also easy to reach participants that live in different timezones and locations, creating opportunities for a wider target audience segmentation. Moreover, online platforms for unmoderated testing are typically capable of automatically collecting data and metrics, such as task completion rates and time on task, to help with quantitative data analysis.

4. Iterative Testing

The benefits listed above make unmoderated studies a viable option for iterative testing. The speed and convenience to set up a study, implement and evaluate design changes allow for repeated rounds of testing in a relatively short period of time. A lean approach to swiftly gauge user interaction, identify potential issues, and iterate on design will empower product teams to continue to fine-tune their features based on real user-driven feedback and behavior data.

Some of the benefits of running unmoderated testing boil down to efficiency, flexibility, and the ability to reach a diverse pool of participants. It’s important to note that it may not be suitable for all types of research. For complex tasks that require in-depth understanding or situations in which qualitative insights are crucial, moderated testing that delves into the deep why’s and how’s might still be the preferred approach. While there is no straight formula to decide when to run unmoderated studies, deliberately reviewing the research objectives and the target audience may help determine whether unmoderated testing is the right choice for your next project. If you have any thoughts on unmoderated user testing or have any questions on how to leverage Hubble for your user research, feel free to contact me at jin@hubble.team.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I run unmoderated tests?

The frequency of running unmoderated tests can vary based on factors such as the product development stage, project timelines, and the need for continuous feedback. A general guideline is to incorporate unmoderated tests regularly throughout the product development cycle. Conducting tests at key milestones, such as after major updates or feature implementations, can provide valuable insights. The cadence of unmoderated tests should align with the iterative nature of product development and the desire for continuous improvement.

What is the benefit of unmoderated tests over moderated tests?

Unmoderated studies provide flexibility in terms of timing, allowing participants to engage with the study at their convenience. This flexibility can lead to a larger and more diverse participant pool in a quick turn over. Additionally, unmoderated studies are often more cost-effective, as they require fewer resources for live moderation.

Nevertheless, the choice between moderated and unmoderated studies depends on specific research goals, the complexity of the study, and the desired level of control over the testing environment.

How long should unmoderated studies take?

The duration of unmoderated studies can vary depending on the complexity of the research objectives and the tasks participants are required to perform. In general, it's advisable to keep unmoderated studies relatively short to maintain participant engagement and prevent fatigue. Studies ranging from 15 to 30 minutes are often considered optimal, allowing participants to provide valuable insights without feeling overwhelmed. However, the specific time frame should be determined based on the nature of the study and the tasks involved.

How do I create effective tasks for unmoderated usability testing?

Tasks should be clear, concise, and representative of real user scenarios. Clearly communicate the goals, and structure tasks to assess specific interactions. Pilot testing can help refine tasks before the actual study.

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Jin is a UX researcher at Hubble that helps customers collect user research insights. Jin also helps the Hubble marketing team create content related to continuous discovery. Before Hubble, Jin worked at Microsoft as a UX researcher. He graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from U.C. Berkekley and an M.S in Human Computer Interaction from University of Washington.

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