With the UK and many other countries around the world in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with many UX and research professionals shifting to a full-time remote work (and remote research only) routine, the community’s priorities have adapted to the situation.
We took a look at the popular trends – including questions asked and topics discussed – across social media, forums, Slack channels, and online search to bring you the answers to these questions.
While the community focussed more on ways to remain productive and manage remote teams in the early days of the pandemic, there has been a clear shift to specific topics around remote user research.
Keep reading to find out what has been trending among the UX community.
Although not all types of user research can be done remotely – looking at you, ethnographic studies –, other formats like 1-2-1 interviews or focus groups can easily be adapted during times like these. There are quite a few benefits that make up for the disadvantages of not being able to meet with your participants in-person, such as less travel time and costs, less logistics planning, and the ability to target more locations and wider audiences.
Here are some useful tips for shifting to remote user sessions:
+ Start by asking these questions to decide if remote is a valid option for your project: what are you trying to achieve, how important is to observe the users in their environment, and is your target audience comfortable with technology?
+ Make sure your tools are still adequate if shifting to remote methods. This will involve some research at the initial stages of remote research, but there are hundreds of great sources of knowledge online.
Here are a few to get started:
▪️ Building a spicy design tool stack for remote teams – By Ray Macari
▪️ Awesome user research – Via GitHub
▪️ Top tools and services for remote user research – Alexis Gerome
▪️ Coronavirus sucks, but now is the perfect time to do remote user research – By Damian Rees
▪️ Tools for remote UX workshops – Via Norman Nielsen Group
+ If going remote, there may be the option to run unmoderated sessions. If this fits your goals, it could save you a lot of time and costs.
+ Shift or adapt your budget: depending on your requirements, you may have to pay to access a couple of tools.
+ Make sure you provide all the necessary information to the participants, including instructions on how to use the platform selected for the research. If working with a third-party user recruitment agency like People for Research, provide them with as much information as you can so they can screen the participants accordingly and share any relevant details at the recruitment stage.
+ To make sure you are comfortable with the platform yourself, it’s useful to run a dry test ahead of the sessions.
+ Have a plan B in case you experience tech issues or the participant drops-out. This could include, for example, having extra time in-between sessions or over-recruiting a couple of participants.
+ Ask some warm-up questions at the beginning of the session to build rapport with the participant.
+ Ask the participant for feedback after the session (if you’re able to) and use this to continuously improve your remote research skills.
Transitioning from face-to-face sessions to remote research doesn’t mean you can be more relaxed with compliance. If you have any questions about GDPR and how to remain compliant if running online/phone sessions, drop us an email.
With all research going remote, this is a question that we have seen quite a lot. So, how can you make sure your participants remind engaged during the sessions if you can’t read their body language and expressions or control the environment they are in?
Here are a few techniques that we apply during our two-stage screening process.
+ Set realistic expectations for participants ahead of the session and let them know it’s ok to stop if something goes wrong with the tech, their internet connection, etc.
+ Structure the research plan to avoid monotony. If running a self-guided interview and using a template, use a mix of question types to keep the participants on their toes.
+ Let the participant know there’s no right or wrong answer; you are simply looking for their honest feedback.
+ Reveal as much as you can about the topic of the research ahead of the session: if the topic interests the participants or the session is about a product they use, they are more likely to remain engaged throughout.
This question was asked during a recent User Testing webinar, and we thought it would be an interesting thought to share.
Testing a prototype remotely means you have no control over the device being used to test said prototype or the actions taken by the participant, but there are ways to make sure your work and/or your client’s confidentiality are respected.
+ The first step is to get the participant to sign a non-disclosure agreement, plus make them aware of any relevant protocols and policies.
+ You can also use a secure server URL to host the prototype during the session, which can be permanently deleted once the research is over. This means the participant won’t be able to access the prototype later.
+ Alternatively, you can make the prototype available to the participant on the moderator’s website and allow the participant to remotely access the device.
Changing your usual research routine from face-to-face to remote raises a few questions around incentives. Not only can you adapt the incentive to reflect the fact that the participant doesn’t have to travel to meet you, but going remote also opens the research to new locations and participant profiles (for example, stay-at-home parents or full-time carers), so there is a lot more to consider when calculating your participant’s reward.
+ Think about the length of the session, where the participants are based and the cost of living in their location.
+ Consider their job title, if that is relevant for the session. For example, a business owner will require a higher incentive than an office administrator.
+ Be mindful of what you are asking your participants to do – the incentive for a 15-minute card sort and a 60-minute 1-2-1 interview can’t be the same.
+ At People for Research, we advise our clients conducting research in the UK to follow a rule that has always worked for us: the minimum incentive for research with the general public is £1/minute; go higher if you’re looking for niche professionals or business owners, for example.
+ And, finally, take into account seasonal variations. This tip applies to both face-to-face and remote research regardless of the participant’s location: if you are recruiting an accountant during tax season, you have to up your incentive to reflect the fact they will have to take their time to help you during a really busy period.
A few companies, however, find it difficult to offer incentives to participants within 24 hours after the session, due to the way their accounts work. During this period, PFR can help to facilitate incentive payments – get in touch with Kate Parrott to find out more.
There are countless articles online answering this question. Here are a few:
▪️ How to effectively work from home as a designer – Daniel Birch
▪️ How to brainstorm with your newly remote team – Jen Goertzen
▪️ This Twitter thread by user researcher Jo Arthur
▪️ Remote work in design: problems and solutions – Kate Shokurova
▪️ How to lead a 100% remote design team – Abstract
▪️ How to navigate the transition to remote work during the COVID-19 – World Economic Forum
On a related note, it’s normal to not feel motivated or be extremely productive right now. Here’s some great advice we found on Twitter.
+ “Give people explicit, repeated and full permission to feel whatever they’re feeling and talk about it openly with each other. A powerful way to do this (I reckon – am trying it out) is to create space for / encourage a few people your team trust to lead by example. […] Keep reassuring people, as often and clearly as you can, that it’s not just them who feels weird; this whole situation is really weird and unsettling and it’s ok not to be as productive as usual, to feel whatever you feel about it and to take some time to adjust.” Delivery Director Janet Hughes
+ “In large organisations, when chaos strikes, it takes a while for the implications to become clear. While waiting for the dust to settle, it’s okay to: be doing little, or to be doing the wrong things. Focus on keeping spirits up and looking after each other.” Service Designer Audree Fletcher
+ “Can we use this time to stop and reflect on current economic, capitalist frameworks and propose new ways of working? COVID-19 has shown our systems are fragile, not sustainable, impacts the most vulnerable first and places too much value on profit, not people or nature.” Dr Chloe Sharp
There are a lot of resources out there to help you with this one! During our research for this article, we found some good advice on a couple of Slack channels and on Medium as well. For user researchers conducting moderated sessions remotely, it’s important to be able to make video calls and record them simultaneously, so check out this list of platforms you can use.
+ Good old phone
+ PingPong (https://www.hellopingpong.com/)
+ Google Hangouts
+ Screen Leap
If you are feeling a bit lost when it comes to remote research tools and adapting your process, get in touch with Nicole Partington. Also, don’t forget that remote research allows you to target new locations and audiences – Nicole can also help with any international recruitment queries you may have.
We noticed a few people asking about this on social media and thought it would be useful to include.
In a recent article about accessible content published by Sigma, Molly Watt describes transcripts and captions “different things, and both important. Transcription is simply a text document, and unlike captions there is no time information attached to the script. Captions are divided into text sections that are synchronised with video and audio content. Both verbatim, transcripts and captions should portray both speech and sound effects as well as identify different speakers.”
Here’s a short list of tools recommended by the community:
+ Zoom has a closed caption functionality
+ Live Transcribe
+ Microsoft Teams
+ Amara Editor
Speaking of accessibility and digital inclusion, recruiting disabled participants to take part in remote research can be extremely difficult at the moment, but it’s not impossible. Check out the Accessibility Collective, our self-serve panel composed exclusively of participants with different types of disabilities, or get in touch with Alex Evans for more information.
ResearchOps founder Kate Towsey asked this question on Twitter, and we noticed there were quite a few professionals looking for more ways of learning and improving their skills during this period.
+ Where to find online courses: University of the Arts London, LCC Short Courses, IDEO: Online University, Future Learn, Service Design Academy.
+ Webinars: dscout’s webinar on 2nd April , this recording of a recent webinar by Portable, or this on-demand webinar by UserZoom.
+ Podcasts (suggested by Nikki Anderson here): The Conversation Factory, Dollars to Donuts, Mixed Methods, Awkward Silences, Aurelius.
+ Slack channels: Mixed Methods, ResearchOps, User Research Academy.
User researcher Ben Cubbon on Twitter questioned non-essential research at this stage from an ethical point of view. “From a methodological point of view, will the data collected during the lockdown be skewed, and therefore less valid? From a practical point of view, will our invitations to take part in research be read given the density of information and notifications needing to be shared? We moved to remote to give distancing protection, but wondering now if even that should carry on (unless the research is for a key area),” he tweeted.
We took a look at different online conversations and articles to get a rough idea of the community’s opinion on this.
Research director Emma Boulton and her team came up with the following list of questions (shared on Twitter) to help you determine if you should be running research right now.
1. Is it necessary?
2. It is necessary now?
3. Should we or can we do it differently?
4. How can we minimise the impact on our participants?
5. How can we care for our selves (we may hear traumatic stories)?
We found a lot of chat around these topics on Reddit, inspired by the overall impact that COVID-19 has had worldwide.
A user looking for a UX role in the United States for the last two months shared their experience: “Lots of companies are fully equipped to be remote, and have had little-to-no impact or delay on talking to candidates. Some companies are slowing down their hiring processes, meaning they are still actively talking to candidates, but are holding off on final offers and trying to slow the process down because they’d much rather meet you in person at a time when it’s safe to do so.”
Another user added: “Startups are easily an area that it’ll be hit very fast. The economy was already in a questionable place to begin with. A good chunk of companies won’t stop hiring, so I’d encourage you to keep applying, but that doesn’t mean they’re not re-evaluating their hiring plans.”
In a different Reddit thread, a user shared the following: “It’s a very different time now. The UX field is crowded, in some areas over-crowded, especially for entry-level. […] If you are committed to a career in UX, take this opportunity to grow your skills. If you have time and talent on your hands, donate it to a good cause and learn something in the process. The effort will come back to you. Your network will grow, your skills will grow and your portfolio will grow. The only thing that’s constant is change. If your situation is disconcerting or dire, apply yourself and be kind to yourself. Things will get better. They always do.”
“Having worked in product design uninterrupted since the 90’s, I can say that these are the times that need design thinking the most.” – a different user added.
To help UXers in this position, product designer and co-founder of Designer Up, Elizabeth Alli, wrote a blog to help designers and researchers find work during the pandemic:
+ Remote Leaf
+ We Work Remotely
+ 100 Telecommute Jobs
+ Twitter (check out Jared Spool’s latest tweets)
The article also lists a few remote-first and remote-friendly companies worth checking.
Simon Norris, CEO of Nomensa, said this on Twitter: “I think a lot more people are going to be aware of the value of collaborative working and specifically team working. This should further increase the value of skilled freelancers who can join teams and projects to add support and value. No doubt the importance of digital is only going to increase, it already is acting as the primary channel given the current situation. UX is about making digital products and services excellent and humanised.”
“I think the importance of UX can and will only increase. We are going to need more and better digital technologies, especially as digital becomes even more embedded in our lives and that means a lot of UXing is going to be required,” he added.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen once the pandemic is over and we can go back to our normal routines, but the International Monetary Fund predicts that, although a global recession is definitely happening in 2020, we are likely to recover in 2021.
What questions do you have about UX trends? Tweet us @People4Research and we’ll start a conversation.
Maria Santos, Head of Marketing and Data Protection
If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.