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Remote research: get insights from users in under a week

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Transition, User insights

A quick way to start doing user research is to arrange for some telephone or Skype interviews with a few of your users. It won’t be comprehensive, but it’s a great way to get started at very little cost.

This kind of research is especially well suited to exploring how users meet their needs when they use your existing website. You can use the live site as the focal point for a remote conversation.

Here are 5 tips on how to go about your first round of remote research:

1. Find people fast through existing channels

It’s likely you already have contact with your users through mailing lists, social media channels, expert panels, communication outreach, or support lines. These are your assets in finding people quickly.

I usually put together a quick screener like this one to capture contact details using Google Docs or other survey software like Survey Monkey. It’s easy to share, people can fill it out quickly and it keeps all the contact information in one place.

If you know you want to speak to a specific mix of users, you can also include a couple of questions in the screener to help segment participants. For example, if you want a mix of frequent/infrequent users, ask how often people visit your website in the screener.

2. Focus on specific experiences rather than generalisations

When you’re talking to people, start by focusing on specific experiences rather than asking for generalisations. It’s more difficult for people to recall what they do in general and often leads to vague conversations which don’t tell you much. By focusing on a specific experience, you’ll find you get much more detail and flavour.

If you start with questions like:

“Can you tell me what you were looking for the last time you visited the site?”

You can follow on with a question like:

“Is this a typical reason for you to visit our website?”

With something to compare, people are much better at adding context in their answer to a more general question.

3. Co-browse your website so users can show not tell

Ask people to have the website open while they are speaking to you. While you don’t want to get too caught up in the particular user experience issues your current site has, letting your users guide you through the steps they normally take will make it easier to explore their needs and behaviours.

If you can, use a screen-sharing tool like Skype, Google hangout or GoToMeeting so you can see what people are doing. There’s a lot to be learned from observation as well as what people say. Watching where someone’s mouse hovers or how long they take to find something provides you with data that can’t be conveyed in words.

4. Record and transcribe interviews to avoid misinterpretation

During an interview the most important thing is to be an active listener.

  • Focus on what people are actually saying, pick up on threads from earlier to follow up on and allow time for your interviewee to wander off topic
  • Don’t distract yourself by scribbling notes at the same time as you’re bound to fall out of the flow
  • By recording the call, you can focus on leading the interview without worrying about forgetting important information
  • Transcribe the call afterwards - it usually takes 2 - 2.5 x the time of an interview to do a full transcription - but it forces you to really get to know the data
  • You’ll be surprised how much your brain misremembers, having the transcript allows you to interrogate the actual data and make connections in a way that a few notes don’t
  • Don’t forget to ask if the interviewee is happy to be recorded at the beginning.

5. Research is a team sport

A slight cheat, as I’m stealing this one from the user research principles we have at GDS but it’s definitely worth repeating.

  • Try not to give all responsibility for doing the interviews to one person, it spreads the learning and sparks ideas faster when a few others are involved
  • Invite a couple of other team members along to the analysis too - if you’ve got transcripts you can ask people to read these first
  • During analysis, pick out actual quotes and stick them up on the wall on post-its
  • Once you’ve made your data more visual it will be easier to spot themes and identify actions
  • Share your findings with the wider team afterwards, illustrating what you’ve learnt with quotes from the interviews
  • Make sure you define your actions - what do you need to do next? What are you going to change based on what you’ve learnt? These will probably include follow-up questions to explore in your next round of research

And there you go: user research that’s easy to start and finish in just one week.

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  1. Comment by Andrew Robertson posted on

    For step 1, Find people fast through existing channels - please remember to check the permissions for data use. My understanding is that if people only agreed for their contact details to be used for a specific purpose, the Data Protection Act says we can't contact them about other things.

    • Replies to Andrew Robertson>

      Comment by Cath Richardson posted on

      hey Andrew, that's a great point thanks. I definitely don't mean to suggest that you should contact people when you don't have permission. This is where the screener comes in handy. For example, you can include a link to it as part of a standard newsletter you send to subscribers with accompanying text that makes clear that you are gathering people's contact details and permission to contact them for user research purposes.

      In another example, if you are replying to a support request that deals with a topic your team are researching you could also ask whether people would be interested in being contacted for a follow up call for research purposes.

      Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

  2. Comment by Stuart Barker posted on

    Cath - good examples of providing clarity. The legal and regulatory obligations on all organisation on the use of personal data are quite stringent.