How to do UX research in a COVID-19 world (plus FREE handbook)

UX Research in the new normal

As the world begins to come to terms with living alongside COVID-19 for at least the coming future, we take a look at how UX research will need to adapt to continue to get good results whilst keeping everyone safe.

Remote will be the new default

When lockdown began, we hope you were able to continue testing. If you did continue, you no doubt chose to go down the remote testing route as it was by far the safest method for both you and your participants. We expect that remote will continue to be the preferred method whilst the virus is around but that remote moderated will grow in popularity.

In-person research has returned but may not be face-to-face

For many research projects, remote testing won’t answer the key research questions, or it simply won’t be possible due to technical constraints. For example, one of our clients has highly confidential and sensitive gaming hardware that is tricky to setup because it’s still at the prototyping stage, so remote would not be suitable for their needs. 

Now that people are able to return to work and to indoor environments, we have resumed in-person research here at Keep It Usable, in our Home UX Lab. However, it will look a little different and as you also resume your in-person research, there are several changes you’ll need to make and things you’ll need to consider across the whole research process.

We have resumed in-person research here at Keep It Usable

Ensuring and communicating safety

Ensuring a safe return to in-person testing is our priority at Keep It Usable. The health and safety of our clients, researchers, observers, participants, staff and anyone else within our facility is of the utmost importance. It is key not just to provide this safety, but also to communicate it well so that people feel reassured and are are less likely to worry about the environment they will be in.

White Tower Reception
Reception in our building

Participant recruitment and screening

As you may be aware, the specialist user recruitment agency, I Need Users is part of our group of companies. We have been providing recruitment for many years and are very proud of our superb attendance rate (for most projects it’s 100%). But with COVID-19 we’ve had to make a few changes for in-person research: 

  • Our updated screening process now includes additional questions relating to experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, testing positive, contact with others and possible exposure to others who may test positive, and recent travel.
  • As there can be a period of time between being screened and the date of the research, all participants will be re-screened the day before your testing to ensure no new symptoms and changes have occurred.
  • When they arrive at the facility, they will be asked to confirm again.
  • We will also take extra time in the screening process to alleviate any concerns that participants may have about attending the research facility in-person. This will involve explaining the process, environment and setup so they feel safe to attend.

Face masks and social distancing

The official guidance on face masks and social distancing will apply within our facility. As these are changing on a weekly basis at the moment, these will continue to adapt in line with government guidelines. All participants and visitors must wear a mask when arriving and use the hand sanitiser when they enter the building. 

Hand sanitiser is available on arrival
Hand sanitiser on arrival

Research lab changes

We are not currently recommending researchers sit alongside participants because it would go against the current government guidelines and the PPE required may be uncomfortable for the user (and you). It will also effect the audio quality for your observers and your recording.

Instead, we have several alternatives available, where you and the participant can be in different rooms but still be close by in case you need to pop into Home Lab to sort out any technical issues (wearing PPE of course).

Home UX Lab

New individual self-contained booths

An extra option that we now offer is the use of our individual self-contained work booths. These extra special booths contain a chair, desk, internet connection and lighting. They are perfect for individual tests! You may prefer for your participant to be sat in the booth or you might prefer them to be in our homely lab whilst you use the booth. Alternatively, your participant could be in our homely lab whilst you use the large observation room next door. We have many options that are all entirely flexible and we can help to advise on which setup will be best suited to your research needs.

UX Research Booths

Process changes

In light of the new guidelines, our day-to-day processes have changed, including:

  • Participants to be kept separate whilst waiting for research.
  • Seating in the waiting area to be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
  • Schedule extra time between participants to enable cleaning.
  • Sanitisation of room and equipment between each participant.
  • Hands sanitised before handling anything. 
  • Masks to be worn when interacting with visitors.
  • Social distancing to be maintained.
  • Only bottles of water to be made available to participants.
  • Snacks individually wrapped.
  • Anything used in the research should be disposed of if it cannot be sufficiently disinfected (such as post-its).
  • No cash payments to be made to users. 

FREE Handbook

COVID-19 UX Research Handbook

We’ve put together a handbook with all of the information you’ll need in order to carry out UX research in a COVID-19 world.

You might also like:

Home UX Lab – our purpose built homely, cosy and relaxing in-house lab

I Need Users – specialist user recruitment agency

5 User tests every Product Manager should commission

User Testing for Product Managers

You’re very busy, in and out of meetings all day, managing projects and making decisions that will create a successful product. You’re managing expectations and dealing with multiple conflicting opinions from stakeholders, everyone has a different idea and vision – perhaps you rely on your gut instinct to make the final decision.

It’s great to have lots of ideas but how do you refine these to those that will really resonate with your users and be a huge success? How do you then build these into successful products? How do you validate ideas and evidence required changes? The answer is user testing.

1. Concept tests

The start of a project is the perfect time to begin research with your target users. Are you guilty of waiting until the build is complete before running your first user test? This is a very high risk strategy. We’ve been called into projects at the last minute to test before launch because concern sets in that perhaps the site/software/app actually isn’t all that great. The initial cost saving of not running any user research in the early stages is not worth it when you’re then faced with the overwhelming cost of redesign, development and additional time to launch, all resulting in potential lost sales.

2. SWOT competitor tests

Did you know you can run a full user test on all of your competitors? This enables you to understand their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your product from a user perspective. The biggest assumption you should avoid making is that they have a good UX. They may well do no user testing, they may not be very good at user testing, they may do it but not interpret and implement the required changes very well, you can’t assume they are better than you you need to find out for certain. You should also include your own site in competitor tests so you can discover how users compare you against them and where you are strong/weak in direct comparison.

3. Features and functionality tests

You have a long list of things you want in the UI. Your stakeholders have their own lists. You all disagree what should be in the UI and which features should take priority. How do you decide? What you need is a user test focussed on determining which functionality and features are important for the user. We use tools to determine what should be included, the priority of importance, user expectations of each feature, where it should be within the navigation structure and interface and much more.

4. Prototype tests

How much time do you spend sat in meetings debating what the UI should look like and where things should go? Forget it. It doesn’t matter what you think, you need to remember you are not your user. Ask your designers to mock up your early wireframes in a prototyping tool. This can then be tested with users. It’s quick, effective and provides you with the peace of mind that your design is progressing in the right direction. Of course, if users respond negatively to it, at least you’ve caught this at a very early stage where alternatives can be mocked up and tested easily.

5. Visual design tests

So you’ve been user testing at the early stages and everything’s gone well, there’s no need to test at the end is there? Wrong. You should always test after the visual design stage. Visual design forms part of the user experience and is crucial to get right. Poor readability, poor CTA contrast, copy, imagery and many other factors can all have a big influence on usability and conversion. Don’t invest in UX all the way up to this stage then blow it on the final hurdle.

What next?

The next step is simple. If you’re curious about any of the above and how user testing will help you to create a more successful product, contact our user testing experts for free, friendly, no-ties advice.

Other posts you may find interesting:

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment: Is your recruitment negatively affecting your research?

Guest Interview: Whirlpool’s UX Manager

whirlpool-logo

Brandon Satanek Whirlpool UXFebruary’s Keep It Usable guest interview is with our friend Brandon Satanek. Brandon is the UX Manager of Whirlpool Corporation, a company we’re huge fans of (especially their beautiful KitchenAid products).

 

Welcome to Keep It Usable Brandon!

Foremost, let me say that I appreciate the opportunity to tell you more about our work at Whirlpool Corporation!

What is your role at Whirlpool?

I am the manager of the User Experience Design team at our global headquarters in Michigan. This team works in the Global Consumer Design department where we collaborate with other creative professionals such as industrial and graphic designers, model makers, and color experts. My team focuses on products sold in the North American region.

What kinds of products do you work on?

We work on the original form of “apps” – appliances! We have the pleasure of creating products that make the everyday lives of people a little bit easier. It may be a refrigerator that helps you organize food for an upcoming party or a cherished stand mixer that makes stirring chocolate into your cookie dough less strenuous. And, we also help with those other “apps” too!

Whirlpool-Kitchen-aidPerhaps one of the most dynamic aspects of Whirlpool Corporation is the great diversity of product experiences. We are more than a single appliance company – we are a company of many different brands beyond Whirlpool. In the United States we also have KitchenAid, Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana and others. In the rest of the world, you will find brands like Bauknecht, Brastemp and Consul. Each of these brands is targeted at a specific customer persona. Helping ensure each of those customers has a unique experience tailored to their needs makes our job all the more interesting.For example, the user interface on products may vary from a simple knob to an intelligent LCD color touchscreen. Within the product interface, design opportunities abound. One day, people on my team may be working on the classic human factors problem of mapping knob controls to cooktop/hob burners. Another day, we may be creating an interactive onscreen wizard to help people remove a wine stain from their favorite silk shirt.

 

What is the role of UX within Whirlpool?

We have the responsibility to ensure our products are useful, usable, and desirable

Our corporate mission is: “Everyone, Passionately Creating Loyal Customers for Life.” We believe our UX role fits perfectly with that goal.

We have the responsibility to ensure our products are useful, usable, and desirable. In some cases, this means taking a leadership role in the product development process. Designers on my team are often called on to drive user interface efforts. They will collaborate with engineers to select the appropriate technology and then develop the basic interaction design. We deliver specifications or other requirements which provide detailed information regarding the behavior of the product.

In other cases, we may act in an internal consulting role. For example, a project team may ask us questions about the ergonomics of a particular solution. Could a consumer reach that last sock in the dryer? When the rack is pulled out, is the force needed acceptable? We can help provide actionable data to guide the design process.

 

Could you share a brief overview of your process?

Our team is very much integrated with Whirlpool Corporation’s official development process which begins with in-depth consumer insights and ends with delivering a finished product to them. At a high level, most UX practitioners would recognize our work as a typical user-centered design process. We just happen to align it to the phases-and-gates process the company follows.

However, some UX practitioners working in software or web design may not be familiar with the requirements of developing for manufacturing. We don’t have the luxury of posting updates to the server after release to address any field issues. Instead, we must make sure we get it right the first time – it’s a great responsibility. Therefore, we spend considerable time in the early development phases to design, test, and iterate our product concepts. By the time tooling and manufacturing has started, we are well onto the next project.

UX practitioners working in software or web design may not be familiar with the requirements of developing for manufacturing.

 

How does user research fit in?

Concept – During the development process, participants try out early prototypes which enable us to iterate quickly through design ideas.

Contextual inquiry – We go into people’s homes and observe how they are using the products to look for future innovation areas. We value continual learning about new behaviors and trends.

Benchmarking – Either very early or very late in the development process, we may benchmark our products against a prior generation or the competition.

Ergonomic evaluations – To validate that consumers will be able to reach certain parts or will have the strength necessary to operate components.

Sensorial evaluations – We want components to be more than just usable, they should also deliver a pleasurable and quality tactile feel during operation.

 

How important is international research?

At a user-level, the types of food stored, cooked, and eaten varies and we must make sure our products fit the lives of the people who use them

International research is very important, but rarely goes by that name. I’m reminded of the joke: “What do they call Chinese food in China? {pause for effect} Food!” You might say I have a hard time calling it international research when the people performing it are local to that particular region.

Whirlpool is a global corporation and we are very fortunate to have design offices all over the world. I have colleagues in Italy, Mexico, Brazil, China and India. Each of these offices tends to be responsible for the projects in that region. Of course, we collaborate and there is overall cross-pollination of best practices.

The importance of this work is underscored by the different consumer needs found worldwide. At a macro-level, there are some products, like dishwashers and clothes dryers, that are not available in certain regions. At a user-level, the types of food stored, cooked, and eaten varies and we must make sure our products fit the lives of the people who use them. Even simple things like ensuring the settings on our clothes washers match the information on the garment tags must be taken into account.

 

Do you have a story of a UX success or failure that stands out as a good lesson for others to learn from?

After seeing people adopt rather uncomfortable postures, an idea was developed to create a platform to raise the products to a more convenient height…it shows how contextual user research can lead to user-centered innovations that directly impact the bottom line.

One classic story involves the invention of the pedestal accessory which can optionally sit under our front-load washing machines. A group of researchers were visiting homes and observed how some participants were struggling to reach clothes inside competitive products. After seeing people adopt rather uncomfortable postures, an idea was developed to create a platform to raise the products to a more convenient height. The team took that idea and developed it further by creating a product that not only raises the height but also includes a drawer to store detergent or other laundry supplies. It’s a great case study because it shows how contextual user research can lead to user-centered innovations that directly impact the bottom line and create a new product category in the industry.

 

That’s a great example of how user research can instigate new product ideas! How much emphasis do you place on age related UX and accessibility?

With an aging population, it is very important that our products meet the needs of a diverse set of consumers. Instead of focusing on any particular disability, our goal is to promote Universal Design principles in our products. We want to maintain the usability and aesthetics for the vast majority of the population, regardless of ability.

A number of years ago, Whirlpool Corporation was awarded a Helen Keller Achievement award for our efforts to help those individuals with vision or hearing impairments. This was, in large part, due to work on a set of laundry products and their use of lighting and sound. For example, as the user pressed a button to cycle through temperature options, they could see a light move from setting to setting, and they could hear a different audio tone (corresponding to a music note) for each setting. In this way, feedback was presented along multiple sensory channels and provided broad usability without requiring special accommodation.

KitchenAid toaster

What are your favourite UX websites and blogs?

As UX continues to grow as a profession, so do the number of corresponding websites/blogs. It is very difficult to pick any favorite as I believe good ideas can come from anywhere. Therefore, I have been turning more-and-more to aggregators that collect the best articles all in one place. On the web, I visit Alltop to find a thorough listing of recent posts. On mobile devices, I use the Flipboard app and subscribe to the “Design” channel for inspiration from many different disciplines.

And for shameless plugs, I believe Lisa is doing a fantastic job on this KeepItUsable blog! In my spare time (not affiliated with Whirlpool Corporation), I have recently started EXPERIENCEdzine to highlight how UX ideas can come from entertaining experiences like Disney parks.

 

Why do you think companies should include UX in their process?

I fundamentally believe it is the right thing to do

First, let me start with the cynical answer. Napoleon said, “There are two levers to set a man in motion, fear and self- interest.” If you’re not investing in UX, your competitor will be. Improving UX directly impacts the bottom line. Whether it is through increased sales, decreased tech support costs, or improved loyalty – simplicity sells.

Second, let me answer it from the heart. I fundamentally believe it is the right thing to do. There are enough terrible things in the world, why add your product or service to that list? We need a bit more delight and a little less drudgery in our lives and UX can help make that happen.

 

What advice would you give to companies who don’t yet have a user-centred approach?

The most common advice I hear is to start small and build gradually from demonstrated product successes. In fact, this is advice I wholeheartedly endorse based on personal experience.

After graduation, I started work for a company that did not yet have a UX team. I was the first person hired with any formal training in the subject. And, I was hired as a temporary contractor – no doubt, they were a little uncertain about the value of the profession. It was a safe risk to take. I was thankful for the opportunity and thankful to be paired with a talented visual designer. Our team redesigned a few smaller software projects and the results were well-received. Soon, our focus expanded and so did the team size.

If there are people reading this who are in that same situation, I would certainly encourage them to take that same small risk. No doubt, there are many professionals and agencies out there very willing to help out in the journey. I’m sure they’ll find, like I have, that the journey will be filled with some of the kindest and best people out there.

Brandon Satanek Whirlpool UX

There are many professionals and agencies out there very willing to help out in the journey…the journey will be filled with some of the kindest and best people out there.

Follow Brandon on Twitter Linkedin EXPERIENCEdzine

Further help and advice

Now you know, like Brandon, that UX is crucial to improve your bottom line, so what should you do now?

Keep It Usable help many different kinds of companies to understand their users. We conduct research with real people and design interfaces using an evidence-based approach; every element has reasoning. Our ergonomist can also work with your hardware team to ensure a seamless user experience.

Get in touch now for no-obligation, friendly help and advice from the award-winning ux agency you can trust.

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