Published: 26th Nov 2020

How to conduct remote user research

We share the tools and techniques that have helped us to capture user insight whilst sticking to the social distancing guidelines.

Dave Jones - Senior Strategist

With covid restrictions preventing brands in many industries from engaging with customers in real life, designing an improved online user experience is becoming a top priority for marketing departments.  

That process might usually start with a piece of customer research, but with face-to-face interviews and collaborative workshops also out-of-the-question, getting first-hand user insight can be tricky. 

So, after the best part of a year developing new socially-distanced ways of working, we thought we would share some of the lessons we’ve learned about conducting effective remote user research. 

1. Find research tools that work for you

There is a wide range of video conferencing, usability testing and collaborative design tools that can help you along the way. Here’s what works for us.

Remote interviews: Zoom

After months of lockdown quizzes it’s the platform that the public are most familiar with, plus it has functionality that make it ideal for user research, like voting, muting and video recording. Pro tip: change the recording setting to ‘Speaker View’ if you don’t want to have to cringe your way through hours of footage of your own face listening to participants. 

Usability testing: Lookback.

It does require a bit of up front preparation, as you will want participants to download an app/Chrome extension as well check the speed of their internet connection before they can use it. It’s worth the effort though, as once you’re in it provides an intuitive interface that le’s you talk participants through tasks whilst recording their face and screen. Ideal for unearthing challenges. 

Trend Analysis: HotJar.

An old favourite but still as valuable as ever, HotJar gives you heatmaps, session recordings and funnels to visualise the problems users are having. It also lets you implement pop-up surveys to get more insight into your users at key points along the way. 

Remote workshops: Miro.

This is the best substitute we have found for the traditional post-its-on-a-whiteboard collaborative working session. It’s straightforward enough that teams can jump onto it without any training and works nicely alongside video conferencing software. Plus it has a wide range of templated boards that are purpose built for creating mind-maps, user stories and heaps of other strategic frameworks. 

2. Keep it short and simple

The good news: since lockdown, far more people are comfortable using video conferencing software so your pool of potential participants is likely much wider than it would have been. 

The bad news: being asked questions by a stranger on a video call can still be a tiring, intimidating and intrusive experience. 

Limit one-to-one interviews to 30-45 minutes max. 

It means participants don’t get tired of staring into a screen and forces you to focus your discussion on the areas that you’re most interested in, which is no bad thing either. 

And be wary of group discussions. We’ve all been on conference calls with too many participants: people talk over each other, your attention drifts, you start checking your social media, the dominant voices on the call take over and you eventually tune-out completely.

If you do need to conduct group calls, limit the numbers of participants, agree a tight structure in advance and make sure you have a strong moderator. 

3. Put the effort into preparation

With access to research participants restricted, getting the preparation right can help you squeeze as much value as possible from your time with them.

For us, that means: 

  • Agreeing tightly-defined recruitment criteria. If you know exactly who you need to speak to, you won’t find yourself wasting time talking with someone who can’t shed any light on your brand’s challenges. 

  • Writing detailed session plans. Work out how you want your session to run as precisely as you can and document your discussion guides, individual tasks or group exercises before you start. 

  • Testing everything in advance, It’s no good having the perfect session planned if your software crashes: run through entire dummy sessions in advance to iron out any wrinkles in your tasks or technology. 

  • Planning outputs right from the start. Think about how you will share your research findings in advance, as saving interesting video clips, quotes and screenshots as you go will help save time in the right-up. 

If you need help conducting remote user research, check-out our Experience Design service, or get in touch with Sam - we’d love to help.