User research is the cornerstone of interface design. It is by understanding your users and their behavior that you will discover how to improve your product! Don't want to stop exploring while you're homebound? This guide is made for you ! And although we user researchers have a small preference for face-to-face meetings, it is quite possible to practice user research totally remotely, while obtaining quality data.
Note: the situation we are experiencing is unprecedented. Participants, typically for B2C research, may not be comfortable activating their camera during a remote interview. One tip would be to think of a good ice breaker and be natural in your initial conversation. But everyone does as he / she can and we must remain open and understanding. For B2B, the situation can be potentially different: considering that they work remotely, participating in an interview or user test can be seen as a break from their day!
Practice user research in confinement time
- Basic recipe (define your objectives, recruit participants, etc.)
- Exploration methods (rather upstream, to discover your users, their context, their objectives and guide the roadmap)
- Evaluation methods (during the prototyping or live product phase, to assess ergonomics, identify blocking points in the design, verify that the product brings value)
Before embarking on research, it is preferable to define the objectives and create a recruiting screener (a form which makes it possible to “qualify” the persons belonging to the desired group).
Determine the purpose and modalities of the research
What do you want to learn? For example: what payment apps are installed on users' smartphones, and why? How do users perceive our onboarding? What are the advantages / disadvantages of a product from competition?
What are the research methods?
- If you want to identify problems in the design of a product (evaluation), you will need to recruit 5/6 participants. If you want to learn about user behavior (exploration research), it will take a little more to have more reliable data.
- Users should be financially compensated, mainly to give an incentive to participate and avoid no-shows. If this is not an option, you can think of other incentives!
- The date: it is good practice to offer several dates for interviews or tests in order to give participants a little flexibility. A practical tool: calendly.com or tandemz.io
To recruit users, we can establish a screener: This form must ask 2 types of questions:
- A qualification question (do you have payment apps?)
- One or more criteria questions (which payment apps do you have?)
- Note: you can include the choice of dates in this questionnaire
- If you want to recruit testers from your users: send it by email to your list or integrate this questionnaire into your app (via a push notification for example)
- Create Facebook or Instagram ads
- Share on your social media or newsletter
- Contact interested participants
- Agree on a date and logistics for the test / interview
- Tip: send an invitation with a recap of the test progress, the tools necessary to be installed (e.g. Zoom, Google Hangout if it is simpler) and your contact info.
After the test, analyze the results: review all the notes and write a synthetic comment. Remain faithful to the behavior of the user and not to the speech, that is to say to linger on the non-verbal and dig the verbal.
Once this basic recipe is ready, we can focus on the different research techniques relevant to remote.
Explore tools help you find out who your users are. They allow you to learn about their bread points, habits, and preferences in order to feed the product strategy and the roadmap.
The interview, the researcher's swiss army knife, is completely possible remotely. Convenient when you can't get out of your house! It is a method to use if you want to learn about the habits, context and behavior of users. The interview allows you to discover pain points in the life of users and to validate or not your hypotheses.
The most important point: prepare an interview guide. That is to say a list of questions exploring the problematic of your research. Keep in mind what you want to learn but keep the conversation open without getting too attached to your list
- An exploration interview can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Start by making the conversation to make the user comfortable.
- The interview can be conducted via Zoom, Whereby, or Google Hangouts. Consider asking the user to share their screen and ask for permission to save.
- As participants will be at home, they may not want to activate their camera.
- Consider asking another member of your team to "shadow" this interview (camera and microphone off, this person could take notes during your interview, if for example the user refuses to record their screen sharing). Don't hesitate to introduce this person to the participants!
- Ask “why” and ask follow-up questions.
Journaling consists of asking participants to keep a logbook for a fixed period of time. It’s a handy method for when it’s no longer possible to do immersive exploration (that’s to go into the user’s environment to observe them, which is quite relevant today). Journaling allows you to discover daily habits and have more reliable behavioral data.
- Suggest examples of log entries. For example: if you want to learn about the cooking habits of your participants, ask what ingredients and utensils were used to make a meal
- The “journal” can be a form or a Google Sheets to fill daily
- Follow-up with participants well: quick individual interview beforehand, send reminders for logging during the journaling phase and debrief interview at the end
- More tips on journaling
The evaluation methods are mainly used to ... evaluate the ergonomics of a product and answer the question: what is wrong with our interface? Via usability user tests, you will be able to identify what is stuck and prioritize the roadmap.
Moderate usability tests
Usability tests are used to identify sticking points in the design of a product and to understand in depth what is problematic. This method applies to both a low-fidelity prototype or a live product. As part of a low-fidelity prototype, the insights obtained through this testing can help guide product development.
- The tests last 30 minutes on average and can be longer if the product is complex and the research objective broad.
- Conduct the test via Zoom, Whereby, Google Hangouts, request screen-sharing and screen recording (same precautions as interviews).
- In the case of a general audit, define a fairly wide list of areas of interest in the product (onboarding, main function, etc.) then ask users to carry out more specific tasks (purchasing a product, adding a contact). The method must be adapted if the problem is very clearly defined (at that time, it is better to design more precise tasks directly).
- Ask users to verbalize at the same time as they navigate.
- Do not be afraid of silence and especially not try to sell your product (it can be counter-intuitive but the goal of user research is to hear things which can sometimes be unpleasant)
Not moderated usability tests
Unlike all the other methods presented, non-moderate usability tests do not require the presence of a researcher to be conducted. This is a big advantage, because they can be done quickly but a big disadvantage because they are not suitable for scenarios where what is presented is low-fidelity (the presence of a researcher is then necessary to guide the users). It is therefore necessary to favor existing products or the most realistic prototypes.
- Choose a test app (for example usertesting.com. The budget per participant will be different from the budget for qualitative methods.
- You can use tools like HotJar or Lookback to record your attendees' screens while they complete the tasks.
- Define the tasks to be performed by the participants more precisely
- Write the instructions clearly and simply, without giving too many clues. For example: “create an account and fill in all the requested information”, “contact customer service”
- Consider doing a pilot test before starting the final test. It avoids unpleasant surprises!
Written by : Ulysse Sabbag