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The Marketing AIvolution Blog

Unlock business potential with research-driven insights

June 12th, 2021

Moderated Test Vs. Unmoderated Test

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Two things make a business thrive- what they offer and whom they manage to win over. And most successful businesses care much about this ‘whom’ (their customers) more than anything else- and their opinions and feedback. In a highly consumerized setup such as ours, being customer-centric is no longer a fancy offering, rather it is a mandatory attribute to stay in business. Companies both big and small employ a variety of ways to decode their customer expectations and sentiments. The most widely used methodologies include the moderated and unmoderated user testing. Both methods help you to collect valuable insights from your users. However, your requirements and goals will help you zero in on the one that’s most ideal to you. In this article, we’ll try to dive deeper into each of the two usability test methodologies, their advantages, and their shortcomings. But before that, let’s get to the basics and understand what they mean!


What is moderated usability testing?

In moderated usability testing, a person acts as a facilitator/moderator for the test. This facilitator will directly work with the participant by guiding them throughout the study. In case the participant hits a roadblock or has any difficulty with completing the tasks, the facilitator jumps in for rescue and will typically smoothen out the process for the participant. Moderated usability tests have the flexibility of being conducted remotely or face-to-face. But the one crucial requirement of the moderated tests is the necessity to plan on the time and place of the test that’s convenient for both the facilitator and the participants. Plus, the place chosen should be quiet and involve active participation from both sides. Moderated tests can also be conducted remotely but requires the equipment that will enable face-to-face interaction between the facilitator and the participants.


When to conduct moderated testing?

The moderated test is best used for collective qualitative feedback. It helps when the product design team wants to study “why” the user did what it did while using it. It can also be used to check why and what are the difficulties a user is experiencing while navigating the product. It is always a good idea to conduct a moderated usability test at the initial stages of product development.

At this stage, the team is still developing the product, adding and experimenting with different concepts. And conducting a moderated test would help the product team to learn the behaviour and expectation of the user while interacting with the product. This information can be quite crucial to enhance their product design.


Pros of Moderated testing

  • You can form a questionnaire for the test participant and record their answers or reactions while using the product.
  • You can observe their reaction, both verbal and non-verbal while using the product better to understand your product from someone else’s perspective.
  • Since this testing happens with a guide present for the user, it allows the moderator to help and support the participants, in case the user has any difficulty or uncertainty.
  • In this format, the participants are more engaged, and the moderators can strike a natural conversation with them while guiding.


Cons of Moderated testing

  • This test requires planning and some organizing as both the moderators and participants have to be present at the same place and same time.
  • Execution of this test requires some extra pieces of equipment and technical know-how.
  • Also, this test needs to be recorded while it is in progress, like video or audio recording.
  • There is a possibility that there could be some distortion in the test results.
  • This test is often expensive to conduct as it requires a lot of preparation and the right people to conduct and participate in it.


Best ways to conduct a moderated test


  • Define the goal and plan the scope for testing in advance

The product team needs to have a clear goal regarding what part of the product they want to conduct a test for. Accordingly, tasks and questions need to be prepared. Make sure the test captures the essence of the end goal i.e. what they want to achieve from the test. This will then help set the standard for the product which is being tested.

  • Clearly defined criteria for the participants

The participants should comprise your test audience only. The team must know exactly who they want to hire for the test. The participants’ right demographic and behavioral traits are important criteria to be always considered while selecting the participants.


The classic structure of moderated usability test


  • Pre-session question

Get to know your participants before the test commences. Ask questions about their background, lifestyles, and general behavioral traits. This will help in identifying the typical behavior and relevant personal information about the participants.

  • Actual Task

The participants will perform the actual tasks using the product. All tasks are based on the purpose of testing.

  • Post-session questions

Here, the participants can discuss their experience while performing their task on the product. The team can collect this additional information and opinions to make changes and improve the product.

Running a pilot test with one or two participants is a good idea after the test parameters are decided to ensure that the test will work well.

  • Selecting the right fidelity for testing

Most of the moderate usability test is conducted with prototypes and not the actual products. The test should be conducted with a high-fidelity prototype to give the team more realistic feedback about the product. The opinions and feedback of the participants will also be more closely related to the actual product. A test conducted with a low fidelity prototype can be done in the initial stages of product development to collect information about the design and interface.

  • Participants must be encouraged to think loudly

The participants should be encouraged to think loudly or share their experiences while performing the product’s tasks. This will help the moderators to understand the participant’s rationale behind every reason and decision while doing the tasks. It also helps in understanding their motivations and perceptions.

  • Video record the whole test

Recording the participant’s reaction and the screen during the test will help you analyze the result and draw more rounded conclusions from the tests. Sharing this video with the entire product team afterward will give them in-depth insights into the product.

  • Taking notes during the tests

It is highly recommended to take notes while the test is going on. There are too many things happening simultaneously, and taking notes about the observation for future references can help you immensely.

  • Analyze results and report them

Running the test and analyzing the result is of no use. The team needs to understand, analyze and report their observations to make better improvements in the products. The reports written after the test can have some amazing insights which can help the company in many ways.

Some tips for writing a report

  • Do not use many UX jargons
  • Use visuals to explain the reports better
  • Write a clear summary of the most important observations and insights.

Now that we have seen a bit about Moderated Tests, it’s now time to take a closer look at Unmoderated Tests. Once again, starting with the basics!


What is unmoderated usability testing?

This type of test is the complete opposite of the moderate one. It requires no guidance or presence of the moderator. The participant can check the product and complete their task whenever they want, however, they want and from wherever they are. Therefore, it is a faster and more efficient way to get this testing done. This test is usually done to check a part of the product and not the whole thing. The test follows an automated process and is conducted by using certain special tools.


When to conduct unmoderated testing?

The unmoderated usability testing is highly effective when you want to find how often a glitch occurs in a product and how many people this bug can potentially affect. This test can be conducted with multiple participants simultaneously, as we can create a common questionnaire for all and ask them to answer it. We can collect data quickly and observe a participant interact with a product in their natural environment.


Pros of Unmoderated testing

  • The best part about unmoderated testing is it can be done anytime, anywhere, and results are also instantaneous.
  • Since we do not require any extra technical equipment to record or a moderator to guide the participants, it is a less costly option.
  • The participants do an unmoderated test at their place with almost no interaction with any moderator. Hence there are fewer chances of a bias and observer expectancy effect.
  • The tests require very little time from the product team.


Cons of unmoderated testing

  • The team cannot help or intervene in any way if things go wrong.
  • There is no interaction possible with the participants when they are participating in the test.
  • The product team does not have the opportunity to discuss the participant’s answers after tests.


Best ways to conduct an unmoderated test


  • Keep it simple

Since there is no moderator or guide, make sure the team creates a simple-to-follow task with clear instructions and keep it as real as possible. The way the participant will approach a test is dependent on the clarity of instructions and questions asked.

It would be a good idea to test the unmoderated test before sending it to the users. Pilot testing your test can help unearth all the pitfalls in the test format.

  • Have a large number of test participants

There is a higher probability that the unmoderated test would go unanswered or half answered by the participants. That is why it is a better idea to invite more participants than required.

  • Have post-test activity

The team can collect some qualitative or quantitative information from the participants after the test is done. The team can design a quick survey to collect this information. There are many tools for unmoderated usability tests which allow pre-defined follow-up questions to be part of the test for the participants to answer.

Which one should you go for: Moderated test or unmoderated test?


A direct comparison is not possible in this case as it would be analogous to comparing apples to oranges. To decide which method of test to go for, the team needs to decide what kind of data they want to collect from the users. It should be noted that these test modules are not competing with each other. Rather, they are complementary. A combination of the two helps to get the complete picture regarding the user interface and issues faced by them while using the product.

The product design team will need both the test modules at various stages of product development. While the prototype is being built, the team can get moderated testing done to understand the users’ behavior and test the efficacy. As the designs are finalized, the team can switch to the unmoderated test done to see how well it performs in the real world.

Both moderated and unmoderated tests provide valuable insights in their own right. These insights can help you design a stronger and user-friendly product, thereby raising the bar for improvement and innovation with each test.


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