I’m not endorsing any of these tools. Check them out yourself and see whether they work for you.
Remote sticky note tools
Everyone needs stickynotes. Affinity diagrams, experience maps, to do lists, and so on. Try out Mural, Miro, Conceptboard or InVision
Sticky notes ++
There are also some more specialist tools for particular parts of the process – not always necessary, and they may force your thinking down a specific route, but they might just work for you.
Smaply and UXPressia for creating journey maps, personas
Philosophie created their Dotvoter app to make meetings more productive. It also doubles as a nice sticky note tool. Here’s how they suggest to use it.
Write comments anywhere on any live website with Markup or their chrome extension. One use case: Get usability study observers to follow along with participants and note issues they see during sessions on their own view of the site.
Design Thinking process
Treehouse innovation created Sprintbase. This is a whole system for doing remote design thinking/service design. They also have a consultant network if you want to hire someone to help you!
Recruiting for user research
Craigslist or social media in combination with Calendly for scheduling screener calls, or a service like UserInterviews or Respondent. Some of the user testing services have panels of respondents. Be careful because these are “professional” participants who sign up for the money and will have done many studies.
There is a subreddit for everything. Check out /r/SampleSize/ although I’d only use this for posting screener surveys, which then qualify participants for a full study.
Google’s free survey tool is just fine for most stuff. Surveymonkey is a good paid alternative with slightly more complex visual analysis tools. Survicate is free for the first 100 responses every month. Helio is a powerful survey tool (includes maxdiff and point allocation, for instance) and also incorporates some user testing functions like click testing, five second tests, and preference testing.
Most of the leading blogging platforms have free plug-ins for simple one-question surveys that you can embed in your site. If your blog has good reach, this might be a suitable method to grab relatively fast feedback on a key point (with the accompanying sample bias).
You can conduct a simple desktop usability test using video conferencing with screen sharing. If you want to go deeper, there are many options.
Unfortunately most of the full-service user testing sites have moved to an annual subscription model, which makes them super-expensive for part-time or one-off use.
- Usertesting, TryMyUI, Userlytics, Loop11 and UserZoom all offer several user research tools, from moderated and unmoderated usability studies to card sorting, tree testing, and surveys. Some also work well on mobile.
- Gaze Hawk – recruits testers to do eye tracking studies using regular webcams. This will NOT be as accurate as true eye tracking setups. The output is heatmaps and gaze replays, which are potentially more useful than clickmaps.
- Usabilla give you click paths and user comments for sites and mobile apps.
If you just need fast feedback on a single screen or flow, there are several sites that will host your images and manage the question and data capture hassle for you. Some also recruit participants for you, but there is no real demographic profiling so you may get random Web weirdos.
- Usabilityhub offer several tools. Navflow provides path and conversion analysis. Fivesecondtest shows participants your design for 5 seconds, then asks for their first impressions via questions that you set. Clicktest provides heat maps/click overlays on your interface images.
- Mechanical Turk – create a Human Intelligence Task. There is some ramp-up time learning how to use the interface. UXPA has a useful tips and tricks article.
- Chalkmark – creates heat maps in reaction to guided user tasks. One of the Optimal Workshop services.
OptimalSort and UXOps both offer card sorting and reverse sorting (tree tests). Several of the annual subscription user testing platforms (usertesting, userzoom, etc.) also have card sorting features.
For local sorts, you can use UXsort (Windows) or Xsort (Mac).
Compare designs to test conversion
A/B testing tells you which of two interfaces works best. Multivariate testing takes this a step further by showing you which combination of several individual elements is the most persuasive.
- Unbounce lets you run A/B studies of landing pages, using pages built on their site from customizable templates. Also useful for lead generation.
- Optimizely “scrapes” every element of your site’s pages and lets you re-configure their layout without changing the underlying code. Then you run a/b tests on the resulting redesigns.
- Google website optimizer offers free A/B testing, multivariate testing, and conversion metrics. The trade-off is that it involves some script and tag changes to your page code.
Simple database/spreadsheet hybrid Airtable has grid, gallery, and Kanban views. Handy for arranging insights and data if that’s what you need.
Tetra is an ethnographic tool for observing sessions, getting transcripts, and adding real-time tags. You can then search/sort by tags and (if you want) view the associated video clips. It is free for 7 hours/mo.
Repurpose other tools
You might find other tools can be bent to your will if you need quick feedback with no outlay.
- Recruiting or surveying directly via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, e-mail, etc. will give you too much selection bias. Probably best used as a way of recruiting users that you can then call to qualify for online studies.
- Google Forms can be used for more than just surveys. For instance, create an animated GIF of your interface design that blanks to white after five seconds and you have an automatic five second/message recall test. Not perfect, but passable.
- Record and annotate browser screens (including video conference sessions) with the screenity chrome extension (free, open source).
Pros and cons of online tools
Most user research has moved online these days. You’ll almost definitely be using online tools at some point.
- Unmoderated testing works best for short tasks that can be completed in around 10 minutes. Participants aren’t normally being paid enough to pay attention for longer, but this is enough time to get answers to burning questions.
- Works really well for competitor testing – test your site and one or more competitors using the same task list. Compare the results to see how well you’re doing. Cheap enough to do with unmoderated online tools as a regular benchmark study.
- Widens the net for recruiting participants. Allows you to keep your local participants fresher, using them only for face-to-face studies.
Stuff to watch out for
- Most online tools are best for testing web sites rather than applications, although some allow you to upload screens or other images to create a prototype flow.
- Garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t recruit representative users or if your study is in any way biased, you won’t get believable results.
- Participants recruited by online services aren’t always representative. You don’t always find out until after the study (if at all).
- Some tools need software downloads in order to work. Some participants are reluctant to do this. You may get the blame or end up doing tech support if things go wrong.
- Some tools need you to add code to your site. This can be time-consuming, and prevents you from testing competitor sites.