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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

Overcoming User Research Fatigue and Maintaining Your Sanity

I love conducting user research. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years now. However, I admit there are times when it can try your patience. As a researcher you often conduct the same sessions, asking the same questions, observing the same tasks, and often hearing similar answers – over and over and over again. So it’s inevitable that at times in your career you can suffer from user research fatigue.

In my latest UXmatters article, Retaining Your Sanity as a User Researcher, I provide tips for avoiding user research fatigue and maintaining your sanity, including:

  • Don’t schedule more participants than you need
  • Don’t schedule too many sessions per day
  • Take breaks between sessions
  • Get away from the research at the end of each day
  • Break up large-scale research
  • If you don’t have enough time, adjust your effort
  • Ensure your job provides enough variety
  • Continue to learn
  • Indulge your outside interests
  • Remember you’re making the world a better place

 

So check out the article, Retaining Your Sanity as a User Researcher, or to read more about user research fatigue, check out my article, Overcoming That Dreaded Malady: User Research Fatigue.

 

“Generic Sign Project – Fatigue” by Kevin H. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Scary User Research!

The Scream by Edvard Munch

What’s so scary about user research? A lot, if you’re a semi-neurotic researcher. Since it’s the Halloween season, in my latest UXmatters article, I delve into some of the scariest aspects of user research, including:

  • What if I fail?
  • Can I learn something new?
  • What if we recruit really bad participants?
  • What if the research plan doesn’t work?
  • What if there’s not enough time to get through everything?
  • What if something goes wrong?
  • What if we don’t discover anything important?
  • How am I going to analyze all this data?
  • How can I present all of this?

But never fear! I also provide advice about how to overcome these fears. Check it out: Fears About User Research.

Some Really Bad Ideas for User Research

I’ve heard a lot of bad ideas for user research over the years. Most of these have come from people trying to get around the time, cost, and effort of user research. I write about these in my latest UXmatters article, The Worst Ideas I’ve Heard for User Research. I discuss:

  • Management trying to offshore UX work
  • Management thinking that anyone off the street could moderate a usability test
  • Using your own employees as research participants, because you can’t get the actual users
  • Clients wanting to conceal their identities to participants
  • Making research sessions too formal and uncomfortable by reading the opening instructions off a card
  • A field study participant deciding to move the session to a conference room
  • A participant changing an individual session into a group session with coworkers
  • Teams thinking that they can save time by skipping the research report

Luckily all these bad ideas failed, but we can learn from them. Check out more in the article at UXmatters.

“innovatiebroedplaats” by verbeeldingskr8 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

User Research When You’re Sick: The Show Must Go On

Various cold medicine bottles

It happens to every user researcher at some point. You’re supposed to conduct user research sessions, and you get sick. Sometimes you know in advance. Other times it happens during the sessions. Either way, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.

So much goes into planning, recruiting, and scheduling user research sessions that by the time they’re set, they must happen. And usually the only person who knows enough to conduct the research is the researcher him or herself. So, often there’s nothing else to do but suck it up and conduct the research while sick.

However, there are things that you can do to prepare for the chance that you’ll be sick, and there are ways to minimize the effects. In my latest UXmatters article, The Show Must Go On, I provide advice about how to prepare for the eventuality of being sick, to avoid getting sick, and how to conduct research when you are sick.

Read: The Show Must Go On

“Relief is on the way” by kylestern is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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

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

Testing Your Own Designs

Usability testing session

Today I published an article in UXmatters, Testing Your Own Designs. It’s often been said that you shouldn’t conduct usability testing on your own designs, because you may be too biased, defensive, or too close to the design to be an impartial facilitator. Although that may be the ideal, often UX designers don’t have a choice. They may be the only person available to test the design, so if they don’t test it, no one will. So in this article I provide advice for those times when you have to test your own design, and I also provide advice for when someone else tests your design.

I was hesitant to write this article, because it’s been a topic that many others have written about, but I felt that as someone who has been on all sides of the issue, I had something additional to add. Here are some other good articles about this topic:

Testing Your Own Designs: Bad Idea? and Testing Your Own Designs Redux by Paul Sherman

Should Designers and Developers Do Usability? by Jakob Nielsen

BECAUSE NOBODY’S BABY IS UGLY … SHOULD DESIGNERS TEST THEIR OWN STUFF? by Cathy Carr at Bunnyfoot

This One Goes to 11

I just published an article on UXmatters, 10 User Research Myths and Misconceptions. It addresses common misunderstandings about user research that I’ve encountered over the years.

Here’s a bonus outtake from the article, Myth 11…

Myth 11: Field Research Is Better Than Usability Testing

On the other end of the spectrum from those who don’t understand the difference between user research and usability testing, are the user research elitists who think up-front, generative user research methods are far superior to usability testing. In this view, field studies take researchers out of the lab to observe people in their natural environments performing their usual activities, while usability testing takes place in the sterile, artificial environment of a usability lab and asks people to perform a limited set of artificial tasks. Instead of learning about people and what they really do, usability testing provides the limited value of learning whether people can perform your artificial tasks.

The Truth: Both Field Research and Usability Testing Have Their Places

Field studies and usability testing are two different methods used for different, but equally important, purposes. Field studies provide information to inform design, while usability testing evaluates a design. You have to make interpretations and conclusions from the user research and apply that to a design. Even after very thorough user research, you’re never completely sure that what you’ve designed will work well for the users. Usability testing is the evaluation that either confirms your decisions or points you to refinements. Both user research and usability testing are important and necessary. There’s no reason we can’t appreciate the value of both methods.