• Alessio Ferracuti

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

User testings and Usability testings are a very important step to be taken before a product, website, or application is launched. By testing a design on a real user, you are able to easily identify what goes wrong with the product, as well as validate what really satisfies your costumers. If most users do not like something in the prototype, or the final product you are showing them, there is no better time to be making a change. Anyways I am not writing on how to conduct a step by step user testing today (comment somewhere if you would like me to), but on how you can conduct one remotely... and for free!

In this article, I could be listing a ton of user testing tools (free and paid), so that I would get a better Search Engine Optimization ranking on Google, but unfortunately for Google, I have decided to take a more unconventional approach for this article, and without farther ado, I will go straight to the point and tell you which tool I use for remote user testings.

Yes, I will show you the good stuff in a second! :D, but first I really wanted to explain the things that I do in a non-remote user testing in an office space, so that you can easily understand how much time and money a remote user testing can save you.

User testings must do's

When I conduct a user testing, I perform a few tasks prior and during the session. These habits, in my opinion, lead to a successful user testing session in an office space:

  • Prepare a script

  • Test the script with colleague and memorize a few questions

  • Test camera, microphone and multiple monitors

  • Test the expensive testing software you are using, prior user testing

  • When the interviews begin, record screen, audio , and user's face

  • I also observe as much as possible the user's face expressions while going through the prototype

  • I take key notes while all of this is happening, or someone else is taking them

  • I let stakeholders watch the live session from another room

Using Microsoft Teams for remote user testings

When I was first looking for a remote user testing tool online, I was overwhelmed by the many options offered by articles and websites on the internet. Many of those sources are free (Zoom, Skype, etc.), while some software needs to be paid (ex.

While I was looking into all these tools, I suddenly remembered that I use Microsoft Teams to video call stakeholders of projects I am involved in, and I also share my screen with them sometimes. Then, I wondered if I could record people's faces and the screen at the same time on Teams, so I called my colleague, and asked him to help me test a session.

The recording worked perfectly, and the following day I used Teams for some real user testings. During the User testings, I was able to record the user's face and the screen at the same time, while over 3 stakeholders were observing the session (you can have up to 250 people join a Teams call). Microsoft Teams is free, easy to download and very user friendly; on the other hand, If you use mainly zoom in your company, then I would suggest you use Zoom for User Testings

Why remote user testings are not so bad

Remote user testings are really easy to conduct because they make many things a lot easier. Testing the software prior testings does not take long at all unlikely conventional user testings, note taking is a lot easier and it does not make the user feel under pressure. Throughout the interview you can read from the script you prepared without being caught by anyone, while stakeholders can easily observe the session from anywhere.

I am really starting to enjoy remote user testings lately, Let me know in the comments if you agree, and if you liked this short article!

  • Alessio Ferracuti

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Today I am going to share with you insights and outcomes of one of the latest interfaces I re-designed; a free wi-fi interface. I will reveal how I have found the problems that are holding back users from using the wi-fi service, and show you how I was able to expose major pains of the wi-fi service through various "Online User Research methods".

About the company

First Bus is a well known company, and one of the biggest transit organizations in the UK. FirstBus is proud of their services and they encourage users to use their mobile application to keep track of bus schedules, and make sure to use their free-wifi on the new buses. That would be a very good tactic if both services functioned correctly. Unfortunately, for bus users like me and you, FirstBus is not keeping its promise by not delivering free-wifi to everyone.... and when the wi-fi is accessible, it's SLOW.

But... wait, How do I know this? Am I assuming all this non sense?! Maybe I enjoy spending my weekends writing about crazy things?

The answer is "Absolutely not!", Everything in this article is based on my personal experience, followed by a deep User Research that I conducted. All the information is validated, so please keep reading. I will tell you numbers, percentages, users quotations, problems, more problems..... and finally a delightful solution that First Bus users will love.

If you want to read the full case studies, click here

What is a bad User Experience?

I am a First Bus user my self, and I ride the bus on a daily basis to go to work. I overall enjoy free wi-fi services, and I access free wi-fi's whenever I get a chance, so I can save my own Internet Data.

My likely daily scenario on the Bus: It's Monday morning, I am going to work, and I am about to ride the bus for 40 minutes. When I sit on the bus, I take out my phone, I turn on the wi-fi, and I am brought to an Internet page with a fill out form. In this Internet page, I insert my first name, last name, I check 2-3 boxes, I confirm that I am over 16 years old, I accept their terms and conditions, and finally I can click on the big "Connect" button.

Very soon, I get a message saying "Error". All that effort I just made has not paid off apparently. I try to decode the Error message, I am not sure what to do now. After a few more tries, I still I don't know what the error is and I cannot figure it out! I definitely give up now... I guess no wi-fi today, I will try again tomorrow.

The same scenario happens to me around 60% of the times. A few times I am lucky, and I get access to the wi-fi.

After many of this scenarios, I was very frustrated, and I began researching solutions.

How I do User Research online

One day I go on Google, and I type in one of the companies' name that provides FirstBus with free wi-fi. While I was typing the name of the company in the google search bar, a few results came out:

“How to connect to moovbox wifi”
“Moovbox wi-fi not working”
"How to connect to Moovbox"

Now that I have seen what people are looking for, I know that the problem is bigger than I thought. Never underestimate Internet's power, Google search Engine has just validated my assumptions on the interface.

How to do UX research through Social Media

Through User Research Online, I also discovered that people were complaining about the wi-fi service on Twitter. Users were reporting problems through social media, by using Moovbox and FirstBus wi-fi ashtags, you can find out more here.

These are just a few of the quotes from people’s posts on twitter:

“Your new busses have Moovbox wifi, but I can’t connect or register”

Apparently these ashtags were popular between 2012 to 2016 and not recurrent in the most recent years. I had the feeling that I needed more validations to it, and decided to dig deeper by running an Online Survey with FirstBus users..... and tha't s when I got everything I needed.

How to make an Online Survey for your research

For my Online Survey, I used Survey Monkey, but you can also use google forms, which are quite handy and completely free. For this project, I approached bus users through Facebook groups, and friends of friends

Thanks to this survey, I had found some really robust insights. From the survey I also discovered that 28% of bus users in Glasgow cannot access the wi-fi! The main reseason was that the registration is too complicated and it does not work. On the other hand, 12% of the bus users in Glasgow does not want to access the wi-fi becuase it's too slow, or because they don't want to give out their personal data.

Ok… now what?

As this is a small interface, and it is was very easy for me to re-design. The research I had done was pretty good, and solid enough to give the confidence to start sketching on paper a new enjoyable/human centered interface.

After the making of some beautiful personas based on real user research, I proceeed to spend a couple of days with pens and paper!

Just a few of the sketches I made

A wrinkled paper eventually turned into this:

How I made a prototype based on user research

Just to give you a better understanding of what it's at stake here. Do you remember the current interface? You better look at it if you have not. The current interface is the main reason why the project began, and users think that the old/current interface is not engaging and user friendly at all.

Thanks to the research I conducted and my design expertise, I am confident 150% of what needs to be done, and even better, I know what FirstBus users want!

Initially, the prototype I made, did not function. After a week of User Testing and Re-designing, I was able to come up with a much better interface (shown above and in the video below). Thanks to the new Interface I designed, Users can access wi-fi in one click, and be aware of everything they want, no questions asked.

Outcomes and advices

For this project I had a $0 budget, and I still came up with some great User Research ideas, that led me to design the right thing. If you or your company do not have any money for Research, don't worry, you can still make prototypes and surveys through free trials.

The most important thing to remember while designing or developing a product, is to keep in touch with users of your next product. Take a step back just like I did, and find out who your users are and what their concerns and pains can be. Don't be blindfolded, don't go straight into prototyping and do your research! Eventually you will find out that shortcuts don't exist :D

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Product Tank in Edinburgh

Last week I attended Product Tank's latest meetup in Edinburgh, along with other 150 professionals from all over Scotland, and had the pleasure to gain insights on the most common mistakes in User Research and Product Development (shared with you in this article).

Speakers at the event included user researchers from The Scottish National Investment Bank, Education Scotland, XDesign, and product owners and lead designers from Heineken and Sustainably.

The event was kindly sponsored by Deliveroo, Lloyds Banking group, and xDesign. You can also check out xDesign's article where they talk about key learning points and insights from Product Tank's User Research's event

The most common mistakes in User Experience Design (UX)

The First 2 speakers were senior User Researchers who have been in the design industry for over a decade; Bobby King is a Senior User Researcher at Scottish National Investment Bank, where he is planning a User Research Programme for the new public-sector investment bank, while Mike Jefferson is a freelance User Researcher currently working with Education Scotland; Mike is also the organizer of the UX Edinburgh meetup in Scotland.

Bobby and Mike shared with us some valuable advice on how to avoid the most common pitfalls in user research.

If you are a User Researcher, talk to users!

The first mistake they talked about is not talking to users. This is a common issue for user researchers that are in a new environment and have new job positions. If you are a user experience designer/user researcher and you represent users of an organization, going out and talking to users is a must.

How can you design an application without talking to the people who will be using it? Get used to talking to users and get away from the mindset that you need a finished product before putting it in front of the users.

Prototyping before researching users

Bobby King talked about the second common mistake in product development, which is going straight to prototyping before talking to the users. Bobby’s advice is to begin a project with researching human beings first, finding out their preferences, habits and philosophies…. and we do that by sitting down with them and asking them questions.

It’s not hard to develop a Prototype that will only capture assumptions about what we think our customers want.

Going solo as a User Researcher

Mike found himself in the position to be the only user researcher in an organization, and was asked many times to go “solo” on research and interviews.

In your Job position as user researcher, you will probably be asked to go out there and research users by yourself, just like Mike. Especially if you are working for a new organization, it seems like a very good idea to go out there on your own, and do things your way.

However, there is still many things that you don’t know in the organization, and it would be very beneficial to the research process to take someone with you that is more familiar with the domain of the company. Moreover, involving others in the research, helps you get distance between you and the users… so you can watch and observe better.

If possible, get some of the stakeholders involved with the interviews, and let them watch the users next room. Interviews are a very powerful research method and stakeholders will stop being skeptical after being involved in it.

How to choose the right User Research method

Be more collaborative with others, choose research methods together and if you are outnumbered or not respected, then you are not working with the right team, and you should change organization.

How do you know which type of research is most suitable to your project?

All research methods have their place and purpose, and you need to find out what it is that you are trying to understand. Perhaps you need find out why people are not visiting a certain page, or what they cannot find on a page, and so on. Think also outside the box and use different methods in conjunction. For example, Surveys used in conjunction with other research practices could be very powerful, and you could be finding out very useful things. Another example is focus groups… focus groups are not liked by researchers as there is always a predominant person in groups that will mislead others, but if the session is being directed the right way, it gets excellent results.

Getting consents and protecting privacy in User Research

Bobby is very cautious when doing research, and always makes sure that the people he is interviewing are consenting what he is doing, and that means bringing the right copies, consent forms, and protecting their privacy.

Some of his other advice included; not talking about confidential research on the train, while going back home. You never know, someone might know the organization you are speaking about.

Confidentiality and privacy is just as important as organizing the research. Do not underestimate the time frame for your research, because planning interviews takes weeks, research takes hours and analysis of the research takes days! Also keep in mind for your interview scripts to not to include too many details when asking the questions…just observe and listen to the users, and you will eventually find out what you are looking for.

That's me networking at Product Tank's event on User Research in Edinburgh

Heineken and their Product development strategy

Alanna Innes & Duncan Forbes came to talk about how Heineken employs User Research to ensure commercial & product success. They described their experience conducting user testing sessions to challenge assumptions and how an evidence based approach to product definition can complement Agile feature development. Alanna is a Product Owner with xDesign, one of Scotland’s leading digital product development agencies, ensuring product success for innovative companies, and Duncan is a Product Manager at Heineken, one of the world’s largest brewers & pub landlords.

They worked together on a project where they were trying to figure out how they could use technology to improve the costumers experience (club owners, stadiums, etc) and prospects. They held beers, ideas, and volunteers sessions and came up with something they thought that their clients would love and that their company needed at this time. They had ambition, and the confidence to proceed, so they wanted to make a prototype out of their assumptions and hire a UX agency.

Short after, Heineken contracted Xdesign to make a prototype, even though Heineken did not know the scope of the project and understand what problem they were trying to fix. Xdesign made a beautiful prototype, and invited users to test it. They set up a room with cameras, microphones, invited a few Heineken employees and stakeholders to participate, and of course the users to be recorded.

While watching live users using the prototype, Alanna and Duncan realized that users did not like the cell phone onboarding at all! Users thought it was a joke for them to fill out all this information online, and that they would prefer speaking to someone over the phone. Heineken stakeholders could not believe the user testing's outcomes, and became defensive about their product, without accepting the fact that their prototype was not suitable for the users.

Their costumers were not ready for cellphone boarding, and Duncan and Alanna were very worried about how the project was going. Eventually, Adam and Alanna adopted a different prospective, listened to their costumers, discovered their problems, and in the end, managed to complete the project in a 14 weeks design sprint. Their project turned out to be a success and will be made public in April 2020.

What did Duncan and Alanna learn from this experience?

Startups are not easy, and they can result in failure. Thanks to usability testings, they were able to identify their costumers’needs and proceed with the development of a successful product. 

Alanna said: "Usability is king, and once you have that truth, it is hard to dispute by stakeholders or managers"

Duncan says that collaboration can be hard sometimes, but as long as there is trust, and stakeholders believe in what you are doing, you will find consents for more research and new approaches.

Usability Testing is the cheapest and most effective research method

Jenny Bjorkman, UX Lead at Sustainably, talked about small start up budgets, and how Sustainably still keep the user at the heart of everything by carrying out user testing.

Before you start a project, defining the right target market is crucial. If you are designing a product that will be worth a lot of money, convince the stakeholders to invest in user interviews and testing!

Jenny also shared with us how she conducts her interviews on a low budget; You should definitely watch her video if you are looking for step by step instructions on how to make a usability testing. Gathering targeted users can be very cheap (around £50 each user for 1 hour of their time), while the cost for the tools and programs for testing is only around £300 (if you use mac), which includes microphone, face time, mirror screening, and so on.

I hope this article on User Research was useful for the ones that were not able to attend the Product Tank event in Edinburgh.



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