A moderated approach to user research
by Ali Carmichael, Managing Director and Owner

A moderated approach to user research

When we talk about usability testing and user research at Experience UX, we are referring to qualitative and moderated user research. 

Qualitative because we focus on small numbers of people in a study. Moderated because we sit with our respondents throughout each research session.  

Unlike traditional market research, which often relies on large sample sizes, moderated research takes a more intimate stance. Here, our moderators engage directly with participants, observing their interactions with websites, and delving into the nuances of their experiences. 

Moderated and qualitative go hand-in-hand, but why is this so important for usability testing and user research?  

Here we share three valuable reasons for moderated research.  

 1/. Real-world for accurate insight 

Usability Testing at Experience UX is all about context – having people in the right frame of mind when using these websites, whether they would usually be at home, at work, or out and about on their smartphone.  

Naturally some respondents worry that they are being tested, or that there are right or wrong answers. Neither of which is true so being able to chat with respondents at the beginning of a study helps to make people more comfortable and relaxed before starting the test. 

Gathering realistic insight is essential, so having participants comfortable and being themselves is critical, which highlights the importance of the first five minutes of conversation in a test.  

2/. Flexibility for deeper insight 

Most people, given the chance, will gladly share what they think about a website and their experiences. However, experience highlights that what users think they might do and what they actually do can be significantly different. 

Our researchers will absorb what participants are saying, but we really want to see them exploring websites as naturally as possible. We therefore set scenarios and tasks that are individually relevant to our participants, whilst aligning to the objectives of the proejct.  

Participants may still go off on tangents, and our researchers will make a call as to whether that tangent is worth exploring or needs to pull them back in gently to the current task. 

It is therefore important for UX Researchers to be able adapt to what participants tell them and allow for people going off on tangents to elevate the quality of the research.  

3/. Observation for broader insight 

Clients are often looking to redesign their website, which can take quite a long time to fruition. Of course, moderated usability testing will guide this bigger picture, but it also excels at picking out the quick wins.  

Quick wins are usability concerns that are easy to resolve. Often it could be a change of a word in the navigation, moving a button, or removing some content. But the ‘fix’ could have a big impact.  

Whilst the website is in the early stages of an overhaul, the live site can be improved in the short-term so users can benefit from a nicer experience today, which might also deliver some business wins!  

The quick fixes often come from those micro-observations, noticed by our research mid-task. Without being alongside the participant, these would often be missed.  


With years of usability testing under our belts, we’re aware that the role of moderated usability testing is to notice the problems with a website from a user journey perspective. This all sounds quite negative, so context is critical.  

Showing rather than telling, and then helping to explore user interface improvements that remove the issue in hand. Tackling those questions and doubts that users have in their process will increase the potential of user completing their journeys successfully. 

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UX Consultant Emma Peters

Let’s Chat

Got a question? We’re here to listen and help you and your organisation become more user-centric. Talk to us about how usability testing and user research can help you. Contact us today.

01202 293652 emmajones@experienceux.co.uk