Coronavirus sucks, but now is the perfect time to do remote user research

Yep, I know everyone is talking about it, and it’s a bit cheap to use Coronavirus in an article. But, I do think that right now is a big opportunity for remote research. 

Everyone is worried about the pandemic and what it will do to jobs and the economy. Millions of people are self-isolating or working from home right now. I think now is a great time to reach out to people to take part in some research. A little bit of extra money right now will be really appealing, and if all they need to do is sit at home and engage in a Zoom call, it’s easy money.

If you’ve not done user research remotely before, don’t worry, it’s pretty straight forward. Here are some of the things to prepare for in advance to keep you on track.

1/ Think carefully about who you want to speak to

What type of people would you like to do your research with? How are you going to reach out to them? Facebook ads work pretty well. But don’t neglect your network. A friendly request to your friends, colleagues, and followers to help you spread the word does wonders. Especially if you can word your ‘advert’ carefully to make it more about ‘needing help to make a service better for users’, rather than you ‘testing a website’. In fact, my advice would be to avoid the word ‘test’ at all costs. It just freaks people out and sounds scary.

Some useful links for further reading:

2/ Prepare a screener questionnaire to help you recruit the right people

Be really clear about who you want to take part in your research, and more importantly have a clear understanding of what would rule someone out of the research. Try not to give away what you are looking for in the screener; otherwise, you might get people saying they are someone they are not just to make an easy buck.

Keep your screener brief, and to the point, so people can complete it in around two minutes. Make sure one of your recruitment criteria is people with a decent internet connection and a computer with a video camera. I also like to put available time slots in my screeners so I can easily pick people I know are available at a specific time slot. It avoids you selecting someone and finding they are not available to take part.

Some useful links for further reading:

3/ Plan the number of people you need to speak to

If you want to speak with 10 people, recruit at least 12. It’s safer to assume you’ll get drop-outs and over recruit.

Deciding on numbers can be tricky as it really depends on the kind of research you need. If you’re looking to understand how easy it is for people to get through a sign-up process or complete a goal, then you don’t need loads of people. Around five is usually enough to establish the barriers to completion, make amends, and then test again.

If you’re looking to get a more in-depth understanding of people’s attitudes, motivations, and decision making then you’ll probably want to research with higher numbers. At least 10 I would say.

The beauty of remote research is that you’re not booking a room or a lab for people to turn up to. You have the flexibility to add more participants, work later in the day, and even to add another research day.

I’d recommend booking 5 people to start with. When you’re done, see if you need more from there.

Some useful links for further reading:

4/ Keep your user research sessions short and focused

In my experience, people find it harder to focus for long periods in a remote session. I would recommend focusing on three core research questions. Anything more than 40 minutes is probably not going to work so well.

Most of my research sessions focus on 4 key phases. I’ve added in approximate timings as a guide too:

Joining and introductions (3 mins) – sharing screens, explaining the purpose of the research, and so on.

Pre-test interview (3 mins)– concise set of questions to establish who you are talking to and what their previous experiences are.

Observing users complete tasks (30 mins – 10 mins per key area) – focus the bulk of your time on the two or three core things you want to know. Build a few backup tasks and questions in case they whiz through the research quickly.

Post-test wrap up (3 mins)– a brief review of their experience.

Some useful links for further reading:

5/ Expect hiccups and prepare for them

When people join a remote research session, there are always a few technical issues. They can’t download the app, the camera and mic aren’t working, there’s someone at the door, or their kids interrupt the session. Expect things to be a bit fluid and go with the flow.

My advice would be to send instructions in advance on how to connect and ask people to prepare and test their set up as a condition of getting paid. Allow a bit of time for things to settle at the beginning of the session, and go with the flow when things go wrong. If you have to revert to a phone call and not being able to see their screen, do it. You might still get some useful insights.

Some useful links for further reading:

6/ Consider using vouchers or direct payment methods

Incentivising people to take part in the research is critical. Be generous with your incentive and people will want to take part. Offer too little, and you’ll get people who don’t show up.

Amazon vouchers tend to work really well as an incentive. They are easy to purchase, and you can attach the participant’s email address after the session, and you’re done. Alternatively, you could use other vouchers or direct payment methods, but the easiest and broadest appeal is Amazon.

7/ Buy a zoom subscription

I’ve tried several different remote tools in the past and Zoom is a consistent performer. The added bonus is they can share their screen easily, you can see their face, and you can record the sessions, so you’re not frantically writing notes. A subscription means you can save the recordings to the cloud too.

Please note I do not work for Zoom and other options are available 🙂

Some useful links for further reading:

Doing anything new for the first time can be scary. But remote research is straight forward as long as you embrace the technical challenges you might face. I don’t believe it’s as good as face to face user research. But, in the current climate, it’s a much better option because people are available and probably much more willing. The added bonus is you won’t pick up, or pass on, any germs.

Please give it a go and let me know how you got on. If you want some help designing your research or you need a little bit of coaching on your research technique, get in touch. I’d be happy to help.