Using Skype for Moderated Remote Usability Testing

I used Skype and Ecamms Call Recorder for Skype to conduct moderated remote usability testing around the world on a clickable Marvel app prototype. Heres how I got on.

I’ve been working for a Japanese sportswear company who wanted some usability testing done on a new feature they were planning for their fitness app. As the app has a healthy (pun intended) global user base they were keen to test with users from around the word which mean’t remote usability testing on a clickable prototype put together in Marvel app.

When I’ve conducted moderated remote usability testing in the past I’ve used screen sharing services like Webex and GoToMeeting but I’ve always found the requirement on the end user to install various plugins troublesome and the cost (at the time) was prohibitive.

My loose set of requirements this time around was:

  • No plugins to install
  • Low cost
  • Reliable
  • Record screen, audio and video of the participant

I settled on Skype in the end as its pretty ubiquitous these days and although the app would need setting up and installing the chances were that a lot of respondents would already have it up and running.  Because I had a few thousand potential participants I took a gamble and was explicit in the screener recruitment survey that we would be using and Skype on a desktop or laptop and this was a requirement. Despite this I still got a 20% response rate which was better than I normally get for face to face interviews (what also helped was a fairly loose set of requirements for participants and also doing the tests over the weekend).

Skype doesn’t have an inbuilt recording capability but there are a few plugins that can allow this. I used Call Recorder for Skype by Ecamm and at $29.95 was pleased with the results.

What went well with the testing:

  •  Low barrier to entry mean’t that I got a good response and including Skype as a requirement didn’t seem to put people off
  •  Not having to mess about with talking people through installing plugins on the day took a lot of the pressure off me and allowed me to focus on the testing
  •  The call and video quality was excellent so I was able to include excerpts in the final presentation deck for the client
  •  Conducting the testing at the weekend meant I got a good response and because it was remote meant I could spread it out over a couple of days without having to hire meeting rooms
  •  People seemed more at ease with the test and opened up a lot quicker because they were at home
  • It was cheap to run compared with hiring meeting room space

What went less well:

  •  Skype wasn’t quite as flawless as I hoped. Two out of the five couldn’t share their screen without Skype crashing.
  •  I also had the call drop a few times for no particular reason which was annoying and interrupted the flow

So would I use Skype again? Probably yes. Despite its flaws it was pretty easy to use for the participants and although its no substitute for face to face interviews it was still pretty effective and I got lots of good feedback. Conducting it over the weekend wasn’t ideal (for me!) but mean’t I could talk to more people and turn around the test results quickly.

Author Mat Walker

More posts by Mat Walker

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Very interesting, thanks for sharing Mat.

    If you were using a Mac, perhaps you could you have used Quicktime Player to record to the screen and audio instead of using the plug-in?

    Cheers, Patrick

    • Mat Walker says:

      Quicktime would have been the ideal (and cheaper) approach but it won’t record my voice and Skype at the same time hence the need for the plugin.

  • Danny Hope says:

    Is there an advantage to using Call Recorder for Skype over recording your screen with, say, ScreenFlow?

    • Mat Walker says:

      I’ve not used ScreenFlow but from what I can tell Call Recorder is a bit cheaper and records the Skype window as oppose to the whole screen.

  • joeyraff says:

    Are you capturing the screen and facial expressions? Or is it just one or the other? I’ve not used Skype in a while, but I imagine you can share your screen – or let users drive the prototype local to your desktop. I was hoping you could go into that side of it a little more.

    • Mat Walker says:

      Hi, Yes I was capturing the screen and facial expressions (just like you can with Silverback but remotely).

      I got the participants to share their screen via Skype and run the prototype locally via a link to the Marvel prototype. The Ecamms Skype plugin allowed me to also view their camera so I could see them *and* what they were doing on their screen *and* talk to them at the same time *and* record it all. Without the plugin I wouldn’t have been able to do all of that. Hope that makes sense.

  • Great stuff! And very empowering for doing usability testing cheaply and easily. This is one of the major reasons why people don’t do any. I’ll be doing this at some point, thanks for being a pioneer!

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