Viewing the Viewer: Remote Usability Testing

Last year the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, undertook a five-month research project to evaluate its Web site. Working with a user-experience firm based in San Francisco, we gained a better understanding of who visits the National Gallery\’s Web site, why they come, and their expectations once they are on the site.

Several different kinds of investigations were undertaken to achieve the project\’s goals:

  • interviews with core stakeholders inside the Gallery
  • an on-line user survey, to understand who the users are and what they expect
  • a \”freelisting\” exercise, to provide a picture of all the activities that users wanted to perform on the site
  • remote usability testing, to discover how well users were able to interact with the current site and find what they needed

This paper reviews the first three methods and discusses a summary of results of the entire project, but concentrates on the final phase of the research, which involved \”remote usability testing.\” This research involved a Web-based method of testing, rather than a usability lab, and it allowed us to recruit participants from widespread locations to observe their screen movements \”live\” as they attempted to accomplish tasks on the site.

The site evaluation yielded a wealth of data that will be used to make improvements in the design of the Gallery\’s Web site as well as to make the site more responsive to our users\’ needs and expectations.