Initial requirements

You only need two things to start researching, a cam + microphone and a clear vision of what you want to achieve with the tests. Okay, that’s practically three but you get the idea. Everything else is handled by PingPong.

What to research

You have the option to conduct usability tests to assess if users are able to effectively use your product. These are generally done via screen sharing from a PC/Mac or a mobile device. You should prepare a number of smaller tasks for the users and ask them about their experience with your product. For usability tests, 5 users seem to be the magic number. These 5 users will usually point out your key usability issues.

You can also do user interviews to find out if people are interested in your product, website or idea. For this, we have to understand how they usually tackle the task or how they use existing solutions. This should give you a deeper understanding of your target audience’s needs and behaviours. User research generally needs a bit more data to be concise. 5 users should give you a pretty good sense about the viability of your product/idea, but be prepared to conduct further research with additional people to gather more details.

We have a separate article, where we dive deeper into the optimal number of testers for valuable results.

To give you a better idea of how some of our clients are using PingPong, we have listed a few insightful case studies on our customers page.

Create a research in PingPong

We have divided the process into four smaller steps. We cover these steps in-depth in the guide below:

Prepare for the session

Reschedule, cancellation, no-show

You’re working with people and they’re just being human: they’re late; they turn up early; they reschedule; they cancel at short notice, or sometimes don’t even show up at all. We're doing everything we can to minimize issues like these. The sooner you learn to handle these situations, the less annoying it’ll be.

We have collected a few useful points to help you improve the show-up rate.

Requirements for the sessions

We have a few hard requirements that I think are worth mentioning when you’re conducting remote research. Let’s dig into these:

  • You’ll need an absolutely superb internet connection. This is something you simply cannot compromise. You’re doing remote user research via high-quality video calls with possibly screen sharing.
  • You need to find a calm, silent environment. This can be a meeting room or a lockable office room. Your remote research is just like conducting an interview in person: make sure your environment is quiet and you won’t be disturbed.
  • Good quality headphones and a microphone. You want to hear your research participant well and you want them to hear you well. The built-in laptop/computer audio and microphone is not an option for professional user interviews. Invest in a proper set of headphones and a microphone and be rewarded with far higher-quality tests.
  • If this is your first time running a user interview in your current environment, make sure everything works by testing your setup before your first session starts. You don’t want your headphones to stop working half-way through a session/interview because you haven’t used them for months and they’ve run out of battery! We highly recommend taking a pre-call test within PingPong to ensure everything is working correctly.

Plan ahead

You need to get your research plan and your prototypes sorted. In other words, you need to decide what you’re looking to learn and how you’re going to uncover this. You’ve probably run user interviews or at least user testing sessions, so you have an idea of what to do here. If not, this is a good read.


We recommend coming to the remote sessions with an extra person in the call, to be the spectator. This could be a designer, product manager or programmer, for example. Having this person attend saves time because the spectator can take notes instantly (saving you from having to listen to the whole recordings again). Having an extra person also provides an extra pair of eyes on the session. This is especially useful later on when you’re reviewing the insights of your research

PingPong's Observer feature allows your team members to watch your sessions live. Observers can't talk, chat or interrupt the session in any way.

On the session

So you went through the recruitment process, screened your users and cherry-picked the people you want to interview. They booked their session, the session date is getting closer, and this is your first remote user research session. Exciting times!

Step 1: Build rapport and break the ice

The first thing to remember here is that you want to have an informal session where the participants feel like they’re having a laid-back conversation. The session shouldn’t feel like an interview: you want to get a totally natural conversation where the participant feels relaxed and comfortable - this will give you deeper insights from the session.

Start with a nice and friendly intro. Introduce yourself to the user and tell her what this research is about. It’s good to give context and explain what are you looking to learn, so they understand your purpose better and can be more helpful to you.

Since we’re doing remote research, I have a great icebreaker to start off my calls: “where do you live and what do you love the most about your home city?” This is just generally a great way to kick off: it helps participants relax and realise that this is going to be more like a friendly conversation than an interview.

Step 2: Introduce the problem and / or the prototype

After a little chit chat, I give them an overview of the session structure and introduce the prototype or problem we’ll be discussing. This is a good foundation for the more complex questions that will follow.

  • If you’re doing a usability testing session, be sure to explain that you’re testing a prototype and not the participant.
  • Explain that there’s no right or wrong answer to your questions: what we’re looking for is candid feedback and opinions.
  • Explain that they can be totally honest about their feedback and it won’t hurt your feelings as you didn’t design the prototype. Even if you did design the prototype, I’d recommend saying it wasn’t you.
  • Michael Margolis, UX Researcher at Google Ventures recommends calling every interface a prototype during a user testing session. Even if it’s a fully functional production app, telling the user it’s a prototype empowers them to be truly critical and avoid holding back their thoughts.

Step 3: Ask light warm-up questions

Following the introduction, I like to start with lighter, warm-up questions related to our research. These won’t lead to groundbreaking discoveries but they’re helpful to get everyone in the mood and make the participants start thinking.

An easy warm-up question would be “What’s your first impression of the app?”. Or if running a general interview, to ask situational questions about the user’s role, team or organisation.

Step 4: Get into more challenging questions

As you get deeper into the session, make sure you continue to work from your research plan and ask the right questions in the right way.

Be especially conscious that you’re not being suggestive in your questions: this is pretty much the worst thing you can do in a session and totally skews the result. Common sense plays a big role here. It might require a little more learning, practice and self-reflection to avoid suggestive questions.

You generally want to ask open-ended questions, to keep your testers sharing their experience. Make sure you’re digging deeper into their response by following up with more “why?” questions.

Step 5: Wrapping things up

Once you have gathered all the insights you need, or think that the conversation has reached its limit you can start closing down the session:

Thank you, this was really helpful. I think we’ve got everything we wanted, do you have any questions for us or is there anything else you would like to share?”

This allows the user to express themselves and ask anything that they’re interested in. Some researchers tend to send follow up questions via email, but if you’re doing everything right, this shouldn’t be necessary.

After research

After the session is over, the next immediate step is to review the session. A short summary is going to be very helpful if you have more sessions in a specific research.

Synthesising the data

Your goal is to summarise the important insights and group these to uncover problems and patterns.

It's useful to watch the recording with a partner to spot any insights you might've noticed. You also have the option to glance over the conversation with the transcriptions to quickly find the most important parts of the recordings.

You can create clips to export these key moments for sharing and later use.

When you’re drawing conclusions, make sure you’re inviting your stakeholders to participate. Getting them on board with your findings and possible solutions will be so much easier if they’re involved from the start.

Above all, the best way to learn and improve your remote user research skills is by running lots of sessions and self-reflecting after each one. Make sure you’re always spending a little time evaluating each interview, along with your speaking and questioning style.

Updated on
January 3, 2020
Written by