Humanising Remote UX Research — Part 1
A co-written guide on how to collaborate, recruit and conduct moderated user research in a remote setting and how to not loose the human touch shifting online.
We are Viola Miebach and Mohamad Safi. Our common passion and interests brought us to writing this article about our experience adapting to remote research.
Viola is a UX Designer with a background in Business Management and Marketing. Her passion lies within bringing forward technological transformation and humanising digital experiences and currently she is undertaking a Masters in User Experience Design.
Mohamad is a UX Designer with a background in Psychology and Research focused on understanding people’s behaviours and their needs to create meaningful experiences for users and stakeholders.
Together we believe that it is possible to humanise remote user research and we want to share our experiences and knowledge with you in this 2 part series. Here we walk you through some crucial steps to improve your UX workflow when in remote settings.
To all UX Designers who just started their career, want to learn more about UX Research or recently moved to working remotely. We all know the struggle:
How do we empathise with the user through a screen? How do we catch their feelings and reactions towards our ideas and products? Reading mimics, gestures and building rapport is so crucial for our work — how can we continue obtaining quality insights while conducting research remotely?
As a UX Designer, or a researcher, you’ve already learned to appreciate the power of face-to-face meetings. Nevertheless, due to the pandemic we need to adapt to remote collaboration.
This article will provide you with a guideline of tricks and techniques you can apply to your remote research.
How to work with stakeholders remotely
Before thinking about how we will conduct our user research we must first know who will be involved in the design process and how we can maximise each stakeholders inputs.
Cross-functional teams usually have different objectives but it’s important to understand that we will always have the common ground of building the best possible experience for users when they encounter our products or services.
An inclusive approach to running internal workshops can harness the power of diversity to find the right questions that will help solve the right problems.
In this article, Maureen Placente from Optimal Workshops explains how remote co-design can help improve our workflow by gaining speed and quality. Solving complex problems requires multiple points of views. A fast-paced workshop, such as a co-design, can precisely help us diverge quickly while keeping all interests at heart. Nevertheless, it is important to keep the most essential touchpoints in mind especially when collaborating remotely:
- Build and maintain relationships with remote stakeholders
- Keep stakeholders updated remotely
- Make sure the info you provide is very easy to understand
- Listen twice/read twice/summarise
- Achieve stakeholder engagement remotely
- Be mindful of time zone differences
- Use the right communication and collaboration tools
To run a quick and effective co-design our aim should be to have a maximum of 8 people from different areas of the organisation. We should also plan ahead by making sure that everyone has the right material (post-its, markers and blank sheets) and access to whatever collaborative platform will be used, such as Mural or Miro. In these tools, always make sure to allow collaborators to be able to edit and tell in advance which tools are going to be used so if needed, they can get familiar. Furthermore, set clear expectations about the context, the rules, the roles and the time needed for activities. Last but not least, let everyone know that all ideas are welcome and encourage constructive feedback.It is crucial for an inclusive work environment to make people feel comfortable with every feedback they want to deliver. Sometimes the most abstract/abstruse idea is pushing hints on reaching an aspirational solution. There is clearly no right or wrong.
So how can we apply these learnings to a remote user research context?
A co-design can help our team brainstorm, bringing to light our curiosity to find out what we want to learn more about. It can also serve the purpose of converging, shedding or storing ideas to focus on the questions we want to prioritise. The most important part of this approach is that by the end of the workshop we will have inputs from multiple disciplines and departments, making it an inclusive process that will likely help us achieve an optimal design for our users.
Knowing our audience and how to recruit users remotely
After getting inputs from multiple stakeholders it is more likely that we will know exactly who we are designing for and from who we want to learn from. But how do we reach them in a remote context?
It is not just recently that there is made use of remote researching techniques. In the past years, it already gained popularity because it is time-saving, cost-saving, diverse and global, so we are not bound to our own ecosystems anymore. Conducting remote research is a great opportunity to include people around the world, understand the minds of people we are not interacting with in our everyday lives and enables you to recruit almost everyone willing to contribute worldwide.
So how can we find these people? Other than recruiting testers from a panel or research agencies, you can easily recruit participants yourself. Before you go on platforms and start recruiting, make sure you have the following template of text prepared:
- Greet the other person friendly and introduce yourself
- Introduce your field of studies the test will broadly be about (here people can immediately tell you if they can help you or not)
- Explain where this test will be used and who will have access to it
- Mention the time the test will take, the circumstances and the urgency
- Consider providing compensations such as vouchers for online platforms
- Keep it short
Good organisation and project management skills are needed for this type of participants recruitment. Once you have your template set up you can try to find possible participants by contacting them with your appetising lines here:
- Make use of your surroundings: Approach family and friends
- Ask co-workers or co-students
- Post your need on any social media source (such as Instagram or Facebook)
- Reach out on Slack Channels
- Connect and message people on Linkedin
- Use Craigslist or a similar platform for your country
You will notice that people are usually willing to participate if you ask the right way. And once having tested someone, there is always the chance to ask if they are interested in further testing so you can create your own remote testing network.
The interviewer and note taker guideline
Now that the research approach is clear, the content and timeline of the remote test is set and the appointments are scheduled, we can look on how to run them. How will the actual testing look like in the remote setting?
We will have a detailed look on conducting remote interviews such as stakeholder interviews, subject matter expert interviews and user interviews now. The chart below shows how crucial it is to empathise with your user and that unveiling their feelings and emotions from below the surface is key to bring your research forward. The art of great user interviews consists of getting information without asking them directly. Remember, you are trying to find their pain points and motivations, not just their opinion.
But how can we see the user’s world and catch their motivations from screen to screen?
It is more crucial than ever for observing the user’s reactions, gestures and words to have an additional person in the call, the note taker, in order to be fully present in the conversation as a moderator towards the interviewee. So how do we get started?
First, let’s have a look on the Macro guide to see what’s needed to have successful remote interviews:
- Send interviewees instructions ahead of time for the software so they can install or get familiar with it
- Send a friendly reminder the day the interview will take place with all informations included
- Always, always run at least one pilot session
Have a template for introductions ready to cover once the call has started:
Macro-Rule No 1: Always have your video on from the beginning of the call and show your head and upper body.
Macro-Rule No 2: Introduce yourself and the note taker and explain that he or she will be in the background with the camera off.
Macro-Rule No 3: Pitch on what’s being covered in the interviews ( don’t give away the whole reason for the interview, but help them understand your general purpose and see if they have questions).
Macro-Rule No 4: Asking for permission to record the interview (and what the recording is used for).
Macro-Rule No 5: Your neutrality as a researcher (there is no right or wrong and always the choice to not answer).
It is more crucial than ever to be completely present and listen to the person who is being interviewed. Let’s dive into the Micro guide to see what’s needed to have the best outcome of your interview.
Micro-Rule No 1: Always have the video platform program open to permanently see the participant. (You might wanna layout your tabs on the screen so you have the optimal access to everything you need).
Micro-Rule No 2: You and the note taker should have a common document where all questions you want to ask are shown. Throughout the interview, the note taker can tick off questions that are already asked to ease the guided conversation of the moderator and to visually show what’s left to ask.
Micro-Rule No 3: Start with smalltalk and empathise with the interviewees situation and environment to ease in a conversation and then get more detailed in time by starting to ask your questions.
Micro-Rule No 4: Lead the conversation in a direction, but not too rigid (be prepared to deviate if things get interesting).
Micro-Rule No 5: Read facial cues and body language, look for emotional resonance by recognising or mimicking certain gestures.
Micro-Rule No 6: Let them go where they want to go with the question, follow up the answers (good rapport leads to more information in unanticipated areas).
Humanising remote user research to build rapport
Separating you as a researcher and your participant through a screen changes a lot of things. On the one hand you lack the ability to fully use your body language and on the other hand reading gestures from the interviewee is hard. That’s why it is so important to focus on engagement even more. There is the deep need to invest time on warming up with your opposite person to build rapport.
How to enhance rapport
- The appearance: As you are not meeting your participant in person, you have to think about how you want to be seen. Both with how you speak, how you gesture and how the background of your screen looks like.
- Empathy: Seeing the participant on a screen gives you few hints on who that person is. It is important to invest time into getting to know the participant. Warming up, getting to know each other and becoming familiar with the setting helps you to build a connection.
- Silence: Silence in video calls might feel even longer than in real life. Yet it is nothing bad. Interviews require focus, thinking time and reflection.
- Focus: Demonstrating active listening in person is easy. You have eye contact, body language and mirroring. Remotely there has to be an extra effort to reflect and playback.
These aspects are worthy of applying in every remote session to gain our participants trust. However, there are more ways of achieving this goal and they don’t differ much from face to face meetings.
In our experience, being accepting and able to resolve doubts or technical difficulties also go a long way in making users comfortable. The former is all about letting interviewees feel safe to show themselves as they are. This means they should be able to express whatever comes to their mind and know that our team has no judgement towards them. Simply show that you care about their honest reactions or comments as this is where the insight sweet-spot takes place. The latter is about allocating time for participants to ask anything before, during and after the session. Most questions should be answered in the template we send before the meeting, however we should always be prepared to resolve further doubts. This is also where our note taker can play an important role, as he or she may answer doubts related to the use of technology.
If you have made it this far we’d like to thank you. By now you should be able to improve your remote research workflow. We covered important aspects to consider before, during and after your remote sessions, such as how crucial it is to have an inclusive approach to better understand users and stakeholders. We also took a look at how to recruit participants and some techniques to grow your user base for future research and testing. Furthermore, going into detail about different roles within the team and how to make participants feel comfortable or safe to gain meaningful insights for your design decisions.
In the next part of this article we will be covering more tips and tricks for your remote user research sessions. Taking a deep dive into topics like stakeholder touchpoints, how to run effective remote workshops and best practices for remote testing.