Usability testing during COVID-19 – how we conducted remote representative usability testing for adult social services

20 January 2021

Following the findings of our discovery phase we’ve now moved into the alpha phase of our Adult Social Care Digital Transformation Project and created a prototype status update text and website. These are designed to help keep people informed with updates about their request to Adult Social Care, meaning that there is less frustration and confusion about what is happening. Throughout this phase, we have been testing our ideas with real users to evaluate whether they meet user needs. 

What is usability testing?

Usability testing is a key user research method to evaluate prototypes (design ideas that we’ve turned into something someone can interact with). In a usability test, people who would normally use the service or product being designed are asked to carry out typical tasks to let us know how well these prototypes work. 

Usability testing is often referred to as the ‘gold standard’ of UX evaluation methods, and with good reason. It allows us to collect observed data, as well as reported data. In other words, it lets us see how our ideas work and where they can be improved, rather than relying only on what we hear about them. 

Staying safe – remote usability testing

Usability testing is easiest done in person, where the researcher can observe more: what is the participant focusing on? What does their body language tell us? 

However, in order to keep our participants and ourselves safe during COVID, we’ve opted to run all of our research remotely. Remote usability testing is often conducted using video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, where we can screenshare to show our designs, and even give control of the mouse to the participant so that they can roam around the screen as if it was their own. It also allows us to see people’s reactions taking place. 

While this approach can work well for people who are confident using technology, for those less familiar, it can be a barrier to their inclusion in the research. With our focus on Adult Social Care, many of our users are less familiar with technology, and it was crucial that we involve them in our research to properly evaluate our designs and ensure their valuable input. 

How do we usability test remotely when we can’t use video conferencing software? 

To tackle this problem, we decided to split our approach. For those comfortable using video conferencing software, we conducted our sessions that way. For those less familiar, we conducted sessions over the phone. “But how can a usability test happen over the phone?” I hear you ask! 

Here are the steps we took to ensure we could surface valid findings this way: 

What we lack in visual cues, we can make up in time spent. To do this, we called every participant in advance to arrange their session, and to spend a little bit of time having a chat. This meant that when we came to pick up our phones for the session, we knew each other and it felt more familiar for the participants. Which leads us on to point 2…

As we continue into the next phase of this project (beta), we’ll continue to conduct user research to ensure the texts and website are valuable for the people using them. 

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