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Unmoderated or moderated usability testing. Which to choose?

By Maria Santos

Digital Marketing Manager


Last year, People for Research attended the eCcommerce South West event in Bristol and we got to talk with speaker Paul Randall, Senior UX Architect at Evosite, about making the most of a testing budget by exploring different options, like unmoderated vs. moderated usability testing. Our five-minute chat quickly turned into a guest blog idea. As a UX Architect, having moderated and observed many studies in the past, we wanted to ask Paul what his take on the two methods were.

Paul, you’ve observed many unmoderated and moderated usability testing studies. Do you have a preference?

moderated usability testingIf budgets allow, I would always choose moderated, especially in the early scoping stages where you’re still trying to figure out where the issues are and the underlying questions people have. It’s much easier to establish this when you’re with a person face-to-face.

However, the further you progress into a project, the more unmoderated tests come into their own because of the speed in which you can turn them around. You can make quick changes and study them ad-hoc within a day; and at much lower cost than a moderated test would be.

What would you say are the key benefits to both moderated and unmoderated remote methods?

With moderated, you can gain more valuable insights and it gives you the chance to explore topics of interest and talk to the individuals face-to-face. When you hear an interesting comment, you can ask more questions and get better insights from them.

When you are in a room, observing facial expressions and body language during the moderated usability testing session, this becomes a real indicator into how easy or difficult a task is! You can even use eye-tracking technology to understand exactly where the user’s attention is focused, and this is something you don’t have access to in remote testing. Yet.

Unmoderated tests are the most financially viable if you want large numbers of participants or regular tests. They still reveal plenty of valuable insights, but don’t offer the full scope of moderated tests.

Where would you begin if you haven’t done something like this before?

Unmoderated is a good place to start. Asking the right type of questions takes some practice, so it’s cheaper whilst you’re still learning to run it past a few people remotely. There will come a time where you’d like to investigate their answers a little more and that can be the time to schedule some moderated usability testing sessions.

Do you have any parting thoughts?

Do some testing, rather than no testing at all! Ideally moderated usability testing if budgets allow, but don’t use time or money as an excuse. Studies can be done in a few hours and for a few hundred pounds. Your product will be better for it.

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If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

About the author: Maria Santos is the Digital Marketing Manager at People for Research. You can find her on the People for Research’s Facebook or Twitter accounts, regularly engaging with potential participants, market research experts and the UX community.

About People for Research: We recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.

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