A Pandemic Isn’t a Reason to Stop Researching (but… It Might Be a Good Reason to Start)

August 20, 2020

When it comes to doing user research, I’m always going to recommend learning with someone in their own space. Seeing someone use your product in their environment will always add more context to your investigation.

Generally, research falls into these categories:

  • exploratory/generative research (looking to understand problems, needs, goals, etc.)
  • evaluative research (benchmarking your understanding, ensuring something works as intended (usability testing), etc.)

Whether you’re looking to gain insights regarding how someone accomplishes a specific task, validate a concept you’ve ideated for a new product, see how your users are currently using your product, or anything in between, I’d encourage you to explore how research can fit into your product design and development current practices.

Evidence and Realistic Thinking
Here’s an example of impact. In the past when I’ve observed people using software that we’re trying to improve, I’ve heard them say, “it takes no time at all (to accomplish a task)”. However, when I visited their space and saw them do their work in real-time, I saw that they 1) did a workaround to complete their task, 2) utilized another software tool to accomplish the task, and 3) got interrupted by their co-workers in the middle of completing the task. If I had been relying solely on interviewing them to get their feedback, I may have only improved the efficiency of that task rather than redesigning a new flow to accommodate their needs to complete the task which altogether ended up increasing overall user satisfaction. Seeing someone in their space, doing their work, using your stuff.. will always lead to more insights.

But let’s be real, we cannot be where our client’s users are all the time. Maybe you, yourself can’t be close to your customers or users, either. Sometimes there’s a timeline to consider, or scope issues, or access considerations because they’re across the world. Or, sometimes there’s a pandemic.

Cue Remote User Research
In the cases where we cannot be where we’d like to be, we can use Remote User Research practices. Video calls can give us all we need to engage with users in a timely, efficient manner and still get feedback to direct your product. All we really need is a willing user, a Zoom account (or similar tool that allows for video conversations, recording, and screen sharing), and a camera on both sides… and maybe a small incentive for their time. (A $25/$50 gift card sure does the trick in most cases.)

We can learn just as much with remote research. Sure it’s not as awesome and we may miss nuances we may have seen in someone’s space, but the majority of what we need can be done with these tools.

How To Get Started
Getting started doing generative or evaluative research remotely can be really easy:

  • Have something you’re seeking to learn, understand, or collaborate on
  • Find a few people to learn from (5-10 is what I would encourage to start)
  • Set up a time to meet and send a Zoom link
  • Meet up and learn!

I’d encourage your whole team to get involved in making a user research plan so you’re all on the same page. (Pro tip: designate a facilitator and a note taker when talking with your users.) As you research with more and more people, trends and insights will emerge. Gather those insights and have conversations with your team on what your next move is going to be. Perhaps it’s deeper research, a bug fix, or the next area of focus… or, maybe it goes into the output minimizer (aka the trash can). It’s all up to you.

If you’re wanting to get more advanced in your remote user research, a few tools we find helpful include:

  • Validately for recruiting users and/or moderated or unmoderated user research sessions
  • Liveminds for recruiting users and/or moderated or unmoderated user research sessions
  • Miro or Mural for collaborative co-working and learning sessions for idea generation, research evaluation, or strategic planning insights
  • Optimal Workshop for card sorting, tree testing, first click testing

If you haven’t taken up this practice in your product development, now might be a really great time to start. People want connections to other humans right now. Covid-19 is isolating us. People have things to share, stories to tell, and new insights to this newer normal way of life. Perhaps they’re using your products differently. Perhaps their workaround in your product is your next big feature release. But, you won’t know until you ask and seek out those insights.

Take advantage of this time where cameras are normal and build in a practice that could help you better meet the needs of the people using your product.

Photo credit:  You X Ventures on Unsplash