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User research online during a pandemic — Illustration by TEAMS

A case study of bringing user research online during a pandemic

Tips and learnings on how to conduct remote research

TEAMS Shanghai acquired a user research project in December 2019, to collect feedback and comments regarding prepared concepts as well as observe current user behaviours with certain products through user diary studies and in-home visits.

How does one go about changing platform processes on the fly? Here are some takeaways from the project recently wrapped up in March:

Diary Study

Before the interview

Diary studies as a user research method enable respondents to record their behaviors, habits and daily life over a period (usually around seven days to cover both weekdays and weekends). Through this, we can remotely understand how respondents interact with products in real-life scenarios.

Trello board — Diary study
Trello board — Diary study
Diary example from past projects for reference

“After the necessity to switch from in-home interview to video interview, the diary study also provided more invaluable information about the environment and daily behaviors. This in a way made up for the lack of not being able to conduct on-site observations.”

We encouraged users to share their diaries through videos or photos, as well as text or audio explanations. Practice has proven that adding non-leading examples to guide the logging process can help respondents understand the amount and level of information we want to collect so that the quality of collected logs could be guaranteed (improved significantly).

From In-home Interview to Video Interview

Choosing the right tool for the video interview

The first question we had to answer was, which software should we select to conduct the online interviews? There are some relatively common criteria for choosing a remote research tool/software. For example, Nate and Tony mentioned some factors a long time ago in their book “Remote Research” to be considered when choosing a remote interview tool:

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Criteria for selecting a remote research tool, shared by “Remote Research.”
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Pros and Cons of using ZOOM

Stimuli Preparation and Cards Sorting

Visual stimuli were used for concept and technology demonstration in this project. Meanwhile, more interactive activities such as card sorting were embedded into interviews to immerse the user into the conversation and keep them focused.

“…Another challenge we faced was how to bring these face-to-face activities online…”

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Ensuring stimuli are legible on different platforms
  1. Low-interaction part: which the interviewer could conduct, mainly to present.
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Underlying thoughts behind results
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Cards sorting used during offline and online interviews within the project
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Integrated different files into a deck to avoid chaos and confusion

Remote Room Tour

Having the participants show us around and explain their home environment helped us to have a more comprehensive understanding of their situation. Meanwhile, a different perspective to that of the designer or the client might allow us to discover more topics that the moderator didn’t cover at first.

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Remote room tour through respondent’s mobile phone camera

Reflections & Learnings

Although remote research and video interviews have obvious advantages, such as reducing the difficulty of recruitment and saving on travel expense and time, some drawbacks and challenges are hard to avoid. Here is a simple summary of our experiences and what we learnt throughout the project:

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Understanding respondents’ underlying thoughts with different research methods

Written by

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