IBM used to spend lavishly on face-to-face usability testing facilities. A typical test suite had everything: sound-proof room, camera for the participant’s face, camera for the documentation, slaved monitor for the participant’s monitor, and specialized microphones to catch every sound. Of course this required a control room that rivaled NASA’s for a space shot: monitors, controls, pan / tilt / zoom on every camera, and seating for multiple controllers. And there was a separate room for observers, so they could comfortably sip sodas and observe (and sometimes laugh at) participants. Those days are gone.
Instead, remote testing is starting to dominate face-to-face testing. It offers many benefits for clients and for test participants. With remote testing, development staff can observe every session from the convenience of their office, and no special testing laboratory (with its corresponding costs) is needed. Also, participants need not travel to a facility to participate, so they are typically willing to accept a lower fee, again reducing costs. The biggest drawback involves technology.