U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Government Website

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Safely connect using HTTPS

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


  1. Home
  2. News
  3. Blog
  4. For Best Results, Be There!

For Best Results, Be There!

Release Date: July 25, 2023

Why direct observation is better than leaving usability testing to a software platform.

You’ve decided to conduct usability testing to learn more about your users’ experience with your services. Now the question is, what methods will get you the best data to make design decisions? How will you conduct your testing, moderated or unmoderated?

In a moderated usability study session, a person guides the session with a participant. In an unmoderated usability test, a software service leads a tester through a script. Is one method better?

Yes! For best results, moderated usability testing is the best option.

Why is moderated better? Human interaction! After all, the whole point of doing user research and usability testing is to understand the lived human experience. Why are customers confused or frustrated in certain spots? Direct observation is the best tool for learning this.

When you have a human interacting with another human in real time, the qualitative data is richer. The moderator can interact, adjust, and get more from your participants' time and attention.

Want more reasons? Here are our top three!

  • When you can directly observe body language and subtle behaviors you can gain deeper insights and ask follow-up questions about a user’s needs, goals, confusion, and pain points. Those sighs and guffaws tell a story. You can't get that when you rely on software to run your usability test.
  • The moderator can adjust the tasks, questions, and scenarios based on feedback and behaviors in real time. You can ask follow-up questions. If there are technical issues with the product or service you’re testing, you can address them right there. You can ask the participant to share more about what they are thinking in the moment. This gives you more data to work from when it's time to make changes to your products and services. This means you can test designs earlier in the lifecycle.
  •  A usability study session is a touchpoint your customer is having with your agency. It is a designed experience, itself! You can establish a relationship of trust, empathy, and rapport. It’s not their job to give you data. It’s your job to create a design that supports their goals. That means you need a human connection in a situation that is realistic enough that it’s relatable.

By conducting a moderated usability test, you can gain bonus feedback that you didn’t account for in the design of your usability testing guide. You can dive deeper -- something an unmoderated usability test can never achieve. If given both options, moderated and unmoderated, only one choice is clear. Moderated usability testing gives your testing team more opportunity to gain valuable feedback and delivers a better experience for participants.

What are your best practices for Usability Testing?

Check Out Our New DHS CX Learning Topic! 

DHS CX Directorate is excited to present the newest CX Learning topic, Basics of User Research! In six short lessons, you can learn more about how to better understand your end users’ needs, goals, and behaviors. Basics of User Research gives you the foundation you need to start planning and conducting user research and pulling actionable insights from the user feedback you collect.

Check out each lesson below to learn more about the basics of user research!

Looking for more CX content? Check out our other topics, Intro to CX and Usability Testing!

Last Updated: 07/26/2023
Was this page helpful?
This page was not helpful because the content