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Remote User Research: Now More Than Ever

Stay Safe Keep Your Distance social distancing marker on pavement

With everything going on now with COVID-19, remote user research is the only type of research we’ll be able to safely do for the near future. In-person research, in which you need to sit close enough to interview a participant and observe what they’re doing, doesn’t really work with social distancing. At the same time, some people have questioned whether it makes sense to continue performing user research during such unusual times. Aren’t participants going to act differently, won’t that affect the results, and should we ask them to participate in user research at a time like this?

In my latest article on UXmatters, Remote User Research: The Time is Now, I discuss how to adapt to conducting all of your user research remotely and discuss whether it makes sense to continue conducting user research during this unusual time in our history.

 

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Sheffield, UK” by Tim Dennell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Catch 22: Scoping User Research

Architectural Plan

Scoping a project’s user-research phase is a classic Catch-22 situation. Before the project begins, you have to plan the user research activities and the time involved, but you rarely have enough information to make these decisions until after the project begins. In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss some of the problems you may encounter when trying to scope user research, and I provide advice about how to make scoping more accurate.

Check it out: Scoping User Research

What is Observation?

Observing a man doing work on several large monitors

In user research, we primarily do two things – observe people and ask questions. Ideally, we want to observe people’s natural behavior, without having our presence influence what they do.

Observation sounds deceptively simple. You sit and watch what people do. It seems like anyone can do that. But to get the most value out of observation, there’s more to it than passively looking and listening.

In my latest UXmatters article, I examine what observation involves, the different types of observation methods, and explore a more rarely used method in UX research – naturalistic observation. The Role of Observation in User Research

 

Image courtesy of: You Belong in Longmont

Better UX Recommendations

Findings and recommendations spreadsheet

As UX researchers, we tend to focus more time on explaining our findings than in providing our recommendations. Yet, however well we explain the findings and recommendations, there comes a time when we’re not present, and the people who have to implement the recommended changes have to rely on the written recommendations and what they remember from your explanation. So it’s very important to ensure that your UX recommendations are understandable, concise, specific, believable, authoritative, actionable, feasible, flexible, prioritized, and easy to review. I provide advice on how to provide better recommendations in my latest article on UXmatters:

Providing Better UX Recommendations

Is Any User Research Better Than None?

Donkey looking at camera

Any user research is better than doing no user research, right? If you can’t reach your target users, you can do research with your company’s employees, because they’re kind of similar right? If you can’t visit people in person to see them perform their tasks, maybe you can do phone interviews or send out a survey. That’s better than nothing, right?

The truth is that it’s sometimes better not to do any user research than to do half-assed user research. I’m not saying that you always have to the perfect user research conditions or its not worth doing. In reality, we rarely have all the time we need and the perfect circumstances to conduct extensive user research. So it’s understandable that we sometimes have to cut corners and make do with what we’re able to get. However, there’s a fine line between discount user research and half-assed user research.

The danger is when you always cut corners, you can become an enabler. Your shortcuts become the norm, allowing your company to check off the user research checkbox, allowing them to say, “Yes, we do user research.” If you can’t eventually convince them to devote more time and effort to user research, sometimes it’s better to practice tough love and let them fail by not doing any user research, rather than allowing them to rely on poor quality research.

In my latest UXmatters article, I provide advice about how to know when you’re practicing half-assed user research and how to improve. Check it out: Avoiding Half-Assed User Research

Image by Spider.Dog

Difficult Usability Testing Participants

Usability testing session

A key skill you need for usability testing is the ability to work well with a variety of different types of people. You meet all kinds of people as usability testing participants. Over time, you get used to adjusting your approach to different personalities and characteristics. Most people are easy to deal with. However, some people present challenges.

In my latest UXmatters article, “Wrangling Difficult Usability Testing Participants,” I discuss ten types of challenging participants and how to best adjust your interaction with them to get the best testing experience.

Paper Prototyping: Is it still worth it?

In my latest UXmatters article, I compare the latest prototyping tools to paper prototyping. Paper has long had the advantage in allowing designers to quickly and easily create early prototypes, that look unfinished, and encourage users to honestly provide criticism. However, the latest prototyping tools have caught up to, and in some cases surpassed, paper in making it very easy and quick to create prototypes without any coding.

So, do the advantages of paper prototypes still beat these new prototyping tools? That’s what I explore in my latest article, Prototyping: Paper Versus Digital.

Image credit: Samuel Mann

Questions People Have a Hard Time Answering

Question marks

Over the years, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned about the types of questions and topics that participants have a hard time answering accurately in user research. Most people do try to answer your questions, but they may not be able to easily and accurately answer these types of questions:

  • Remembering details about the past
  • Predicting what they might do in the future
  • Accurately answering a hypothetical question
  • Discussing the details of their tasks out of context
  • Telling you what they really need
  • Imagining how something might work
  • Envisioning an improved design
  • Distinguishing between minuscule design differences
  • Explaining the reasons for their behavior

I discuss these types of difficult questions, and better ways to get that information from participants, in my latest article on UXmatters:
Avoiding Hard-to-Answer Questions in User Interviews.

Image credit: Véronique Debord-Lazaro on Flickr

The Most Difficult User Research Method

User research participant at desk

What do these three things have in common – playing in a one-man band, juggling chainsaws, and babysitting 10 three-year-olds? When you try to do all of these things at the same time, it’s only slightly more difficult than conducting field studies.

Of course, I’m just kidding, but not by much. In my opinion, field studies are the most difficult user research technique for three reasons: unpredictability, the need to learn about unfamiliar domains, and the need to deal with competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn a new domain, but there are things that you can do to better handle the competing demands of field studies.

In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss these competing demands and how to best handle them:

  • Observing and listening
  • Understanding
  • Determining whether and when to ask questions
  • Formulating questions
  • Assessing answers
  • Managing the session
  • Assessing the session
  • Keeping track of the time
  • Managing observers
  • Capturing the session
  • Maintaining a good rapport with the participant

Read more in my latest article, Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies.

Image credit: Highways England on Flickr

It’s Only Usability Testing, What Could Go Wrong?

Usability Testing Observation Room

I published a new article in UXmatters this week, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong? The Biggest Mistakes in Usability Testing.”

This article came out of thinking about all of the mistakes I’ve made, and problems I’ve encountered, over the last 16 years conducting usability testing. I think it’s good to look back and think about the lessons you’ve learned. This article is jam-packed with advice learned the hard way.

Usability testing is the most highly structured user research method. Compared to field studies and interviews, the tasks and questions are usually highly planned, and you usually stick pretty close to the discussion guide. That also makes it the most repetitive method. You see the same types of people performing the same tasks and answering the same questions over and over again.

After you get some experience, you can begin to think of usability testing as routine and pretty easy. At a former company, it was the first task that we gave to new researchers, just out of college. It seemed like the easiest method to learn. That may be true, but there are still all kinds of mistakes that can occur. This article discusses the main problems and how to avoid them.

Photo by Blue Oxen Associates on Flickr