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Moderated vs Unmoderated Usability Testing

There are 2 ways to conduct most usability testing methods: With a moderator present or unmoderated.

Author: Daria Krasovskaya

Reviewed by: Marek Strba

Last update 11.10.2023

In this guide, we are going to cover the differences between moderated vs unmoderated usability testing. If you need help choosing the right method for your research – you’re in the right place!

Moderated usability testing definition

Moderated usability testing is any type of usability study that requires active participation of a qualified moderator on top of a pre-written test script to guide the user through the testing, give them the information they need and instruct them on how to proceed with the testing.

In order to obtain insights, the moderator guides participants through the test and records their interactions with the object of testing (product/service, prototype, wireframes, screenshots…).

Advantages of moderated usability testing

  • More engaged participants

The whole testing looks a lot like a 1 to 1 interview and there is a real connection between a moderator and the tester. Feeling like a casual conversation, it builds more trust and motivates the tester to complete the tasks.

  • Reactive collection of additional information

As the moderator follows every user’s interaction with the website, the moderator can ask custom follow-up questions that can help to explain the user’s actions. The moderator can ask what made the users click the certain element, what did they expect to happen, etc.

  • Body language

Moderated usability tests give you the ability to follow the respondent’s body language in real time. You can easily pick up on when they feel confused or unsure and probe them more on why this happens.

When do you need moderated usability testing?

Because a moderator supplies moderated usability tests with a great degree of flexibility and facilitates even studies that are more complex within the frame of personal interaction, moderated testing lends itself particularly well to qualitative testing. Moderated testing is usually conducted at the early stages of the design process when you need formative data.

For example, with low-fidelity prototypes, when you know that you’ll need to follow them up with questions. They are also very useful when testing complex interfaces, the ones that might need some further explanation. 

⬇️ Learn how to become a pro at moderated testing with tips from experts:

Unmoderated usability testing definition

Unmoderated usability testing is a type of usability testing in which participants are not supervised by a moderator. The test is prepared in advance, and participants are responsible for completing it on their own. All you have to do with an unmoderated usability study is produce the test and recruit the participants to take it.

Another advantage of this technique is that the number of people who can participate in the study is unlimited, meaning it allows you to support claims with statistical significance. As a result, unmoderated testing allows you to collect considerably more data in a much shorter amount of time and at a cheaper cost. 

Unmoderated usability testing can be easily conducted with the help of an online usability testing tool like UXtweak.

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Advantages of unmoderated usability testing

  • Mobility

There is no need for a moderator, so the testers can complete the study anywhere, at any time. When you need to take the moderator into account when setting up the timeslots for your study, having two or more participants, who are available only at the same timeslot can be problematic. With unmoderated tests, multiple participants can participate at the same time without the need for extra moderators

  • Less expensive 

Unmoderated tests require fewer resources and are easier to set up. Although they do call for more thorough preparation, to make sure you probe the respondent for all the information you need, the prices are significantly smaller. Aside from the cost of the incentive, the cost of conducting the study is fixed, regardless of how many testers you want to invite. It’s also much faster than the moderated testing.

  • Less bias

There is no “observer factor” which makes it more comfortable for some users to complete the test. It also allows them to be more honest.

  • More data

You can conduct unmoderated tests on a much larger group of respondents, which gives you access to more data.

Moderated vs Unmoderatedmoderated vs. unmoderated usability testing

Choose moderated usability testing when you primarily need qualitative insights (“What happens, how and why?”) and when you have time and resources to spare. As moderated studies are more demanding during the data collection phase than unmoderated ones and require a lot more effort, they are usually conducted at the early stages of the design process. For example, with the low fidelity prototypes, when you know you’ll need to follow them up with questions. 

It is also very useful when testing complex interfaces, the ones that might need some further explanation.

Unmoderated usability testing will be useful at any stage of the design and development process, when you already have a prototype or a live website. It allows you to gather insights quickly and, due to its lower price, you can conduct several rounds of testing. It’s also the perfect choice if you need reliable quantitative data. You can easily get answers to numeric questions such as “How many?” and “To what degree?”.

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