As a user experience consultant, I've been down a lot of different roads with testing setups. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my remote moderated session setup in the last month, seeing as the COVID-19 pandemic shifted all user research for this project to remote platforms.

I'm currently on a job which is punctuated by concept testing sessions, with 9 participants per round. We've done 3 rounds to date and I thought it could be beneficial to share my testing setup here in the RURI office.

The setup

I'm lucky enough to have 2 27" monitors and a laptop. This setup gives me 3 screens to work with, and a good amount of real estate.

Since all team activity has moved out of the office, we've been using Miro for project brainstorming, note-taking, affinity diagramming - and basically anything else that we'd normally use a wall and Post-its for.

Performance does suffer a bit when you add a bunch of frames and cards and bitmap images and post-its, but it's extremely flexible and has proved to be critical to the project.

Figma has also been a major key, with their 'multiplayer design' the only option on a 'vision' project that involves 4 or 5 designers, piles of rough blockframes and hacked up prototypes.

The organisation I'm working for is a Sketch shop, but Sketch is just not fit for purpose when you're working in a distributed fashion like this. Plus, it's not multi-platform, which for most enterprise clients is a real pain. Figma is more accessible, in that I can share a Figma link with QA, PM or Legal, and they can all open it up on the web.

As well as doing a lot of heavy lifting in our day-to-day design work, Figma and Miro have been central to our testing setup as well.

L-R: Spare notes text editer, Miro with screenshots of the concepts, MS Teams for the call, Slack for team comms, and the moderation guide.

Sessions have been run by a moderator and scribed by a note-taker, both dialled in to a Teams call with the participant. Participants were recruited by a market research agency, and sent the Teams link.

It's been hugely insightful, witnessing the kind of life that is happening around the participant at home. Here's some broad patterns that I've observed.

It's necessary to have video

For at least the start of the chat. Visual cues give away so much information in user research situations, and being remote takes these away. But you can still read body language if you have a video of the participant. It's not great, but it works well enough.

Still, the no-shows

We've had the normal amount of no-shows, roughly 1 per round of 9 interviews. Normal service there.  

Life.. finds a way

We've had plenty of harried mums and dads who are trying to get a dose of normality in a crazy situation. The kids have been interrupting, and it's been totally not a problem. I've got little kids so it's always a laugh because I know mine are just lurking around the corner, lying in wait to burst in at a choice opportunity.

Anything can happen

One guy apologised on the phone after his session dropped out mid-way through, because he had left his laptop charger at work and didn't have one at home.

It was kind of fair that he did drop off though, as during the call he had to move outside to get better signal (or something), and it sounded like there was an earthquake happening just outside of our field of view.

Record intent

When you're taking notes, try to stick to one insight or verbatim sentence per sticky note in Miro. This makes it much easier to analyse after the fact. But make sure to be paying attention, so that you can read body language and inflections in speech properly.