The Advantages and Disadvantages of Usability Studies

After getting to know the basic of usability studies and now let’s dive into the good and bad of the usability studies. If you have not read about the usablity studies, you can check it out here.

Created with Miro by Lylyna Heng

Moderated usability studies have a person, known as a moderator, guide participants through the study in real time. Let’s look at some advantages of conducting a moderated usability study.

Build rapport. It is important to build rapport with participants, so that they can feel safe and comfort in sharing more, especially when it comes to sensitive or personal issues. It is a great opportunity for researcher to understand and empathize with users.

Observe firsthand. Feedback and learnings can be more impactful when you see participants interacting with your prototype or product firsthand. It can be shared with your team during the live session. This way your team can be on the same page and empathizing with users is more robust.

Provide live guidance. Moderator can provide guide on the exact task that you want to get feedback on.

Explain the user journey. An opportunity to test the ambiguous or complex problems with your product that could be misinterpreted if there wasn’t a guidance. This often done with low-fidelity prototypes.

Control the conversation. Keeping the participant on track and focus on task.

Make language adjustments. The moderator can rephrase a prompt or question that a participant is not understanding. It also gives a chance to collect more information to improve the design.

Gain clarification. Moderator can ask participants for feedback clarification to elaborate further, which leads to richer insights.

With benefits above, moderated usability study also has its own disadvantages too.

Influence or bias. Moderator can lead the conversation that reflect their own thoughts or feeling through language and body language. This can affect the study’s results.

Self-identification. If participants do not connect or identify with the moderator, they might have a hard time being open about their experience using the product, especially if the subject matter is personal or sensitive.

Participant pool. The live session is usually done during the working hours, which is often not working for every participants. It could result in underrepresented in study findings.

Difficult scheduling. Scheduling for both moderator and participants is hard during the standard working hours. Some participants might not show up and it is hard to reschedule.

Reliable internet required. This can be very inconvient for remote sessions that throw off the tempo of the session with communication difficulty. The session might end early in some cases.

High cost. Facilitating cost can be very high such as renting a space and moderator to each session in person.


Created with Miro by Lylyna Heng

Unmoderated usablity studies have participants test the prototypes without human guidance. An unmoderated study can be done by recording a participant’s screen or having the participant give feedback on tasks. Since there is nobody to assist, it’s really important to have a clear design that is accessible to all users.

Below are some advantages of conducting an unmoderated usability study.

Natural product interactions. Without supervision while completing tasks in the product, they’re more likely to use the product naturally and intuitively. This leads to a more accurate understanding of the user’s experience in the real world.

More participants. It is a remote session, therefore is no boundries such as time zone and geography. This results in more participants.

Easier scheduling. Without time and location constrains, it makes the sechulding easier.

Inexpensive. Unmoderated studies are more cost-effective than moderated studies, since they don’t require a facilitator or physical location to conduct the study.

More privacy. If the usability study involves sensitive or personal topics, unmoderated setting can make participants feel more comfortable answering honestly and sharing their perspective, since they aren’t required to talk to anyone face-to-face.

Simple user journeys. Unmoderated usablity studies work well to test straightforward user journeys and simple features of a product, since participants don’t need a lot of guidance to complete tasks.

Unmoderated usability studies have some disadvantages too.

  • No real-time support. If participants don’t understand the wording of the prompt or if they have technical difficulties, there is not one to provide support.
  • No live follow-ups. There is no real-time follow-up questions or to clarify their feedback.
  • Potential distractions. There is no control over the environment to ensure that participants focus on the tasks, which might result incomplete tasks.
  • Possible privacy breaches. Sharing your design over a testing platform, which means that you have less control over your intellectual property.
  • Inaccessiblity. The testing platform you use to conduct remote research might not be equally accessible to users with disabilities or people who use assistive technology.
  • More datat to analyze. Potential for off topic and irrelevant converstation to your research.
  • Simple user journeys only. Unmoderated studies are not great for testing complex user journeys beacuse if a user gets stuck with a complex prototype, there is no one to guide them through the process.

Start testing

The nature and purpose of research will help you to decide which method to conduct that will help you to improve your product as well as available time and budget. These advantages and disadvantages of both moderated and unmoderated usability study will further put on the right path when deciding which one to take.

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