A quick step-by-step guide to remote UX research

  • Scope:
  • Product Design
A quick step-by-step guide to remote UX research
A quick step-by-step guide to remote UX research

We want to help our clients to build products that succeed and after many years in the IT environment, I can say for sure, there is no secret recipe for that. The whole product or service development process demands constant thinking on business goals and user needs, but the design process starts at the very beginning of this path. 

It’s not easy to build a connection with your customers and shape the product and user interfaces in a way that makes the users come back for more. The first thing you can do to reach this goal is to do user experience research – understand the customers and discover the areas where you can help them, define their problems, and try to find solutions.

New situation – new rules

As the situation worldwide has changed, remote work and online meetings are no kind of secret knowledge anymore, especially in the world of digital products. At Tooploox, we work with many products which have users from all over the world. That’s why we were using UX remote research before the new COVID-19 reality and now we can share our experience with others. 

One of our favourite projects was Coindesk. Why? Because thanks to performing our UX research remotely, it took only 22 days of work. So if you want to see proof that remote UX research works, don’t hesitate to read the Coindesk Case Study

Despite the above, I still remember myself saying that on-site UX research is invaluable. It costs more money and takes more time, but the relationship built with the respondent is much deeper, which leads to a better understanding of the problem. Well, I still believe this is the truth. But after conducting a bunch of remote sessions and gaining some experience in it, I see that in many cases they are an equally good or even better solutions than face-to-face meetings. 

Now, I prefer the other well–known UX research statement:

“Any is better than none”

And why is UX research so important that, even in such a hard situation as the coronavirus pandemic, you still need it? Because it is the foundation of UX design, and as it was written in our article “What is UX design and what does the design process look like?” – every single dollar invested in User Experience design gives up to $100 in returns, and up to 88% of users are unlikely to return to a website that offers a poor experience.

Differences between on-site and remote UX research

Most of the parts of remote UX research don’t differ from face-to-face meetings. There are still the same basic stages to prepare: research planning, participant recruitment, arranging the meeting, conducting a pilot study, conducting the research, and summing up the study. 

A couple of things you need to know about remote sessions:

  • Participants are in their natural environment working on their devices. They are less stressed, as they can stay in a comfortable environment. You can observe more of their natural behaviour and habits.  
  • It’s quicker and cheaper to organize. You don’t need to travel or invite participants from the target audience to a study room. 
  • It’s easier to recruit participants. People are more eager to find time for a video call than a face-to-face meeting. 
  • The inclusiveness is increased. The diversity of your group can be wider as the location is no longer a problem. 
  • It’s more difficult to keep participants focused. They will be less likely to pay attention and stay cooperative for longer.
  • The participant may not show up at the meeting. The lesser engagement and lack of personal contact sometimes results in a loose approach to the arrangements.

Remote UX research step by step

All in all, there are just a couple of checkpoints that you need to remember to conduct a virtual study. Here is a list of ux research steps that will lead you through the process and help you to not miss a step.

1. Research Planning

While preparing your research plan and scenario, think about these questions. If you define the areas you want to focus on, it will be easier to keep the structure of the study. You need to answer a few questions which will help you find people who will best represent your target users:

  • What do you want to know? 
  • Who do you need to talk to to learn it?
  • Where can you find these people?
  • How will you convince them to take part in the research?

Don’t forget to think about compensation for the participants. You can adjust its type and size depending on the research length and complexity. A common solution is money, a gift card (e.g. Amazon voucher) or some brand swag in smaller projects

2. Participant Recruitment

You probably know the common saying “Trash in, trash out.” I mention this because recruiting the right participant group is crucial for the results quality – a misguided group of participants can bias the whole set of research. To gather a suitable group of participants that will be relevant to your target group, you should create a screener – a short survey that helps to verify if the potential participants suit your research needs. Then, when you choose the perfect group of participants, you should start to contact them. 

The pro tip for remote sessions is to invite some back-up participants. It has happened many times to me that the participant cancels 10 minutes before the interview or simply doesn’t show up. Also, recruiting an additional respondent will protect you from poor results if one of your participants will turn out to be very reticent. If you don’t have enough time to talk to your back-up respondents, remember to inform them in advance about the meeting cancelation.

3. Running A Pilot Study

Before asking the scenario questions to real users, test it with someone you know. It will protect you from using questions that look good on paper but don’t work in real conversation. 

  • Find the person who most suits your participant group.
  • Run a pilot study in the same circumstances as the real study (room, hardware, software, internet connection).
  • Conduct the study as if you were speaking to your real respondent. Verify the questions, order, and length of the meeting.

Running a pilot study will allow you to set the estimated length of the session and shorten the question list if it happens to be too long.

4. Arranging The Meeting

Before arranging the meeting you should prepare all formalities. For sure you will need a model document of consent for use of their image, if it so happens that you want to record the interview. Remember also about the model of non-disclosure agreement (NDA), if it’s needed.

If you feel well prepared, you can start arranging the meeting. Here you will find a list of steps:

  • Contact the respondent to set the date and time
  • If you want to record the meeting, send the consent for the use of image and publication of statements and information about the processing of the participant’s personal data to sign 
  • Send the NDA to sign (if needed)
  • Prepare the instructions for the participant on how to prepare for the meeting:
  1. Headphones
  2. XYZ app installed on your device (via the link above)/ XYZ plugin installed on your browser
  3. Quiet space
  4. Good internet connection
  5. Charged battery for your phone/computer
  • Send a reminder message on the day of the session

Sending a checklist to the participant and a reminder of the scheduled meeting helps to avoid unplanned difficulties or, at least, to reduce them.

5. Conducting User Research

One of the general UX design “good practices” is to make the user feel secure and have a sense of control. UX research does not differ – people feel more comfortable when they know what is going to happen, and to make everything clear you also should stick to the agenda you can find below:

  • Check if everyone’s microphones and cameras are working well
  • Introduce the meeting plan to the participant 
  • Before starting to record the meeting, make sure that the participant is aware
  • If you expect the participant to take actions after the meeting, remind them of it 
  • Tell the participant how and when she/he will get compensation for taking part in the study
  • Answear participant’s questions if there are any
  • Conduct the research

Remember to let the participants dispel any doubts and answer their questions if needed.

6. Summing Up

Just after the session has finished, save the recordings, because without them it will be extremely hard to make an analysis later. Just after the session has finished is the best moment to write down the main insights and findings that you’ve discovered. The notes will help you to recall your observations, which are at that moment fresh and uncontaminated by other talks or observations. 

Remember to show appreciation for your participants by sending a thank you message and compensation for their effort and time!

Tools that might be useful for remote user research

Interviewing And User Tests

You will need a tool that lets you conduct user testing or interviews on mobile and desktop. For interviews, you can just use Zoom or Google Meet, but if you want to share the meeting with an observer that will not actively participate in the meeting and will not be visible on the call, try Lookback. This tool will also help when you want to conduct a user test with a larger group or you have a big time difference between your participants. Then you can just send over the tasks and ask the participants to complete them in their own time. Other similar tools for user tests you might use are UsertestingUserbrain, or UsabilityHub.

Online Exercises 

If you are planning a study in a more workshoppy way, you can use a tool like Miro or Mural. These are examples of a virtual board where you can draw, write, add post-its, pictures, and anything else you need. When you use this tool you can, for example, do card sorting. 

Collecting And Analyzing Data

To gather the data collected while researching we mostly use Google Suite tools: Docs, Spreadsheet, and Slides. To make it more efficient, we use a tool called The Rainbow Spreadsheet, which allows us to aggregate the research data in a visual way. 

UX research methods for remote study

  • Quantitative and Qualitative Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Moderated and unmoderated user tests
  • Card sorting
  • Diary studies

I hope this guide will help you to run your next remote study effectively and with greater confidence. If you still have some doubts if it’s worth your effort, remember – any research is always better than none. 

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