Remote user testing for more inclusive digital products

With remote work being the new normal in COVID-19 times, there’s no excuse left for not testing your digital product with a more diverse user group.

COVID-19 has impacted every single aspect of our lives. The need to keep a safe distance so that infection numbers stay manageable has influenced the ways we interact with each other, structure our daily lives, and work together. And while there are endless aspects to how the pandemic has influenced us, I’d like to talk about one specific topic that has changed our work at Goodpatch and the chances I see for a more inclusive design practice: remote user testings.

Good design is inclusive

Human-centered design is at the heart of what we do. We design digital products for real people and our goal is to make them accessible to a variety of users from different walks of life. But what’s easily said in theory can be difficult to turn into practice. As designers, we look at the world from our own angle. No matter how thoroughly a designer has done research on their products’ users, the design will still incorporate their view on the world and therefore the risk of being biased or exclusive to certain groups. This is why it is essential to test digital products with a diverse range of users so that you can empathize with them. This means, if your aim is to grow a large user base for your product, put it to the test with people having differing levels of experience with digital products, different ages, genders, ethnicities, physical abilities, and levels of education.

Leave your bubble and go the extra mile!

“Interviewing people alike to those that created the product won’t uncover the blind spots.”- Danny Sapio

And while this might seem pretty self-explanatory, you’d be surprised about how often diversity in user testing gets neglected. The reason for this is that pushing to include underrepresented groups takes time and is too often seen as a nice to have rather than a basic necessity. Recruiting a diverse group of users means needing to leave your own bubble, investing more time, and talking to your clients about why it is worth spending that extra effort.

It will always be easier to ask five of your friends to test your product than it is to recruit someone whose life clearly differs from yours. With the majority of the design and tech field still being white and male, it is essential to push for more diversity in user tests by deliberately recruiting BiPoCs, women, and other marginalized groups to uncover a designer’s blind spots.

Further, focusing on inclusive design can be beneficial for all of society. One great example is the curb-cut effect that occurred when sloping curbs were introduced in Berkeley in the 1970s to provide mobility to the disabled community.

“When the wall of exclusion came down, everybody benefited—not only people in wheelchairs. Parents pushing strollers headed straight for curb cuts. So did workers pushing heavy carts, business travelers wheeling luggage, even runners and skateboarders.” -Angela Glover Blackwell

The benefits of remote user testing

With everyone at Goodpatch having switched to remote work, much of the research that we used to conduct in face-to-face conversations now is done remotely. And while this switch also brings up challenges, I believe that it offers a great chance for a more inclusive design practice.

The beauty of remote testing

If you test your product remotely, you can reach testers from all over the world and in different time zones. This means you’re not limited to your city’s start-up bubble anymore. Yay! Extending your tester pool like that is a great way to push for a more diverse crowd.

With remote testing, users can further test your product in the comfort of their own homes. This means that typically underrepresented groups that are either limited in time (think, single parents) or mobility (e.g., users with physical disabilities) will have much fewer barriers to overcome in order to participate. Especially for user tests that touch upon sensitive topics (for example sexual health), it can be a lot more comfortable for testers to talk about their experiences in their known environment.

Of course, remote testing also incorporates challenges. Building a genuine connection can be a lot more difficult since you only see the participants’ faces on a screen. Observing behavior is a lot harder and there’s a risk you might miss out on hesitation or other reactions between the lines. And since we are talking about inclusion, it’s also important to mention that especially for elderly testers, the technical set-up can be a hurdle. Make it as easy as possible for them to participate and be flexible to get their insights, for example by switching to a simple phone call instead of a video call or trying tools like Whereby that don’t require the download of software.

Why you should care

Good product design offers the possibility to draw a picture of how the world could be, not only how it is today. Instead of feeding into existing structures and reproducing them, I believe that designers have the responsibility to change these structures for the better and to counteract exclusion with their work. If your digital product is mainly used by male users, you should ask yourself why that is and change something about it. Excluding people from using your product because you didn’t test it with a diverse enough group will in the best case keep your user base lower than anticipated and will in the worst case start a public backlash (remember the racist soap dispenser?). Think about which groups your product might exclude and test it with them to improve it. Here, it really isn’t about recruiting a user group that is as diverse as possible, but to understand the variety of groups your product could be relevant for and to make it accessible and fun for them to use.

By creating inclusive products you don’t only pave the road for a broad user base and a successful product, but you can actively shape the world we live in for the better.

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Written by

Lena Frank


Lena Frank


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