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 Reasons to continuously conduct user research

Conducting user research is now something that most successful brands do to improve their user experience and ultimately their bottom line. However, there is still a lot more potential to increase revenue and profitability as many brands still don’t do enough user research. They are reactive and responsive to the demand for research as opposed to ingraining it within their process as an active continuous activity. In fact, recent research has shown that 58% of companies only conduct research on a quarterly or less frequent basis which is far from adequate if you want to be a leader in your market.
58% of companies only conduct research on a quarterly or less frequent basis

User research is not just about waiting until you have something to test. It should be a pro-active activity that provides regular insights into customer behaviour, psychology, process, interaction, expectations and keeps up with the fast changing pace of the digital world at the moment. The way customers shop is constantly adapting and you need to adapt too.

So why should i continuously carry out user research?

1 Understand your customers

Customer behaviour, attitudes and expectations adapt over time and with changes in technology. Conducting regular research enables you to keep informed of how customers perceive your brand and how they’re interacting and transacting with your business. Rather than waiting for changes to happen then reacting to them, you can identify early turning points and be the first to innovate to changes in your sector. This continuous learning enables you to keep all your user documentation such as user journeys and personas up to date so your team are not making decisions based on potentially out of date and no longer relevant insights.

2 Test hunches and hypotheses

Your team should always be coming up with hypotheses to explain data, current and future user behaviour. Some of these you’ll be testing through your split testing but for concept ideas you’ll need other ways to test these and gain user feedback. Assumptions should always be treated carefully – don’t base major decisions on hunches, make sure you have the evidence to back them up through user research. The type of user research you’ll need to conduct depends on what you want to find out – what’s your hypothesis? See 5 user tests every product manager should commission.

3 Benchmark KPIs against yourself and competitors

What do you use as your KPIs? For your online digital experiences you might be using metrics that include those found in the definition of usability ISO 9241-11.

These are:
Efficiency: How long does it take to complete the task? If you’re an online retailer who sells dresses online, how long does it take a representative customer to find and select a red dress for an evening out?

Effectiveness: How do they accomplish the task? Do they complete it using the most optimal path or do they go around the houses, getting a little lost along the way? This is your effectiveness rating and it’s an important indicator of how easy and intuitive your tasks are to complete.

Satisfaction: How satisfied does the user feel after completing (or maybe they didn’t complete) the task? This is a self rated measure.

You’ll find correlation amongst the above three measures. If one scores low it’s likely the other metrics will score low too and all the above correlates with NPS scores. If you regularly run research to benchmark your user experience against yourself (to check the changes you’re hopefully constantly implementing to improve your conversion) and against competitors you’ll always know how you compare and where your strongest opportunities are.

4 Avoid costly rework

There's nothing worse than leaving user research until just before launch, then finding out that your idea sucks!

Or maybe the idea works but the implementation of it isn’t quite right, it’s not testing well and now there’s not enough time to fix it before launch. If only you’d run some user research on an early prototype! The earlier you can catch problems the better as that’s when it’s much cheaper and quicker to fix them. Some people think user research will add time and cost to their project but it really doesn’t, it slots in easily and quickly, and will save you a heck of a lot of rework later on.

5 Be more successful

By continuously conducting user research in your process, the team are constantly seeing their work from the user’s perspective. They’ll begin to think more like your customers and imagine them as they’re working on their UX designs, when they’re in meetings and when they’re coming up with new ideas. Rather than speaking of their own opinions and experience, they’ll begin to talk about what Alice said last week and this gives them a much more solid basis for coming up with innovative ideas and solutions that are born from user insights. These ideas have a much greater chance of being successful for your business.

What to do next

Commit to a regular schedule of user research and see the changes it makes to:

  • Your team morale
  • The understanding of your customers
  • The quality of new ideas generated
  • The cost savings you’ll make through less rework
  • The improvement in all your customer experiences

…and the business will benefit hugely from the increase in revenue.

User research is a revenue generator and the key to your success

Need to rent a lab for your research?

Other posts you may find interesting:

What is User Testing?
5 User tests every Product Manager should commission

Why you shouldn’t use one way mirrors for ux research

Do you use one way mirror labs? Do you value research that gets you the best results? Then you might want to re-consider using one way mirrors. Here’s why…

Talking to users is fascinating! It’s something we absolutely love doing despite having conducted thousands of them! When it comes to location, you can test almost anywhere but there’s one place that we advise against, and that’s one way mirror labs.

What is a one way mirror lab?

A one way mirror lab (also known as two way) consists of two adjoining rooms with a mirror between them. One room is used to interview people and the mirror functions as a normal mirror from this side. On the other side of the mirror is the observation room where people watch the research taking place, from this side the mirror behaves as a window, enabling the observers to secretly observe what’s happening in the research room.

The negative consequences for research

We’ve used this setup many times and sat on both sides of the mirror. These are the problems:

Nervous users

As a researcher you are ethically bound to tell the participant that there are observers behind the mirror. However, there is a problem with this and it’s called the Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Principle. It refers to the human tendency to continue to think about something after being told not to think about it. For example, if someone says to you ‘don’t think about a pink elephant’, it’s the first thing you’ll picture in your head.

Many users will forget about the mirror. There are other users who will interview ok but afterwards they will admit to feeling watched  (which in turn will have influenced their answers). Finally, some people simply do not interview well with one way mirrors. They may appear nervous, glance at the mirror throughout, whisper some answers to you because they don’t want the people behind the mirror to hear any negative feedback, etc. And the mirror is a difficult thing for people to get over once they have a problem with it, because it’s such a huge object in the room and therefore a constant reminder.

Positively biased responses

If you knew there were a group of people watching you behind a mirror wouldn’t you be more inclined to give positive responses and to withhold negative opinions? It’s natural for people to do this, particularly if they are new to research – they’ll be inclined to want to please you.

Sound leakage

Your observers need to be relatively quiet. I’ve seen labs provide headphones so that observers can turn audio volume up without sound leaking into the testing suite.

When two rooms are next to each other, it’s impossible to soundproof them completely. If the observers next door get quite loud, or turn the volume up, the sound can leak into the adjoining room. Imagine if they laugh and the user hears this (yes this has happened). In some labs, the doors don’t close quietly either – this then becomes another reminder to the participant that there are people watching them.

Noisy cameras

One way mirror labs almost always have cameras that can be controlled in the observation room. These aren’t always silent though. You can be in the middle of a really interesting insight with the participant opening up to you, when all of a sudden you hear the dreaded buzz of the camera . Off-putting to say the least and yet another reminder to the user that they are being watched.

Dark, uninspiring observation room where no one speaks

Observation rooms in labs are awful places really. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, the lights have to be turned off (otherwise you can see straight through the mirror) so it’s a dark, dull, uninspiring room to be sat in all day. In one way mirror labs sometimes the observers can be much quieter than in labs without a mirror, because they can see how close the participant is to them. This isn’t conducive to team working and problem solving.

The issue is these are great setups for observing research, especially focus groups, not UX research. If you have a team of designers observing research, the one thing they’re guaranteed to want to do is sketch, but how do they do that well when they’re sat in a dark room? It’s not an environment that encourages team collaboration, makes a team feel energised, inspired and creative. Conversation and teamworking should be encouraged – now’s the perfect time for the team to get together in one place, collaborate and get to work on designs.

Ironically, no one really observes what’s happening through the mirror!

We spend most of our time watching the TV screens, which give us consistent detail, clarity and control. The glass, for all its glamour, doesn’t always fulfil its worth.

In UX research, the most important interaction to focus on is that between the user and what’s being tested, and in this regard you can’t see anything through the mirror, the detail is through the cameras pointing at what the user is doing. Therefore, the majority of the time, observers are focussed on the tv screen – where the action is. Compare it to UX design…if you want the users attention to focus on something you might give it a more central position, make it bigger, put everything else around it. So when the UI is the most important thing for people to observe, why do labs show this on a small tv screen and give the highest visual prominence in the room to the mirror? It’s crazy!

The solution

The alternative, better solution is to use two rooms that have all the same technology to record and observe the user and their interaction but in the observation room, there are TV screens and no mirror. GDS (Government Digital Services) also use this setup which you can see here. Without a mirror, you’ll get better insights from your more relaxed users and the observation room can now be a creative haven. You can turn up the lights, have natural daylight (windows), have dynamic team discussions and work together on sketches and ideas.

It suddenly becomes an exciting and inspiring workshop to turn user feedback into better designs! And this, is the whole purpose of user research.

We built our own pioneering homely research lab

At Keep It Usable, we’ve designed our own lab from the ground up. We understand the importance of a natural environment to get the best out of user research / usability testing, somewhere that is comfortable and cosy, as if the user were in their natural setting at home.

Meet Home UX Lab

We’ve pioneered the home style UX lab – our Home UX Lab has a living room design and cosy, relaxed feel to put people at ease and gather deeper insights so you get more value from your research.

Keep It Usable Home UX Lab
Read about the amazing Home UX Lab.

Need help or advice?

If you’d like to know more about our pioneering Home UX Lab and how it can help you, contact our UX experts for free, friendly, no-ties advice.

Other posts you may find interesting:

Creating meaningful experiences: an Introduction to User Experience design
Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment: Is your recruitment negatively affecting your research?