Insights / Our COVID-19 Response

A User Researcher in a lockdown world

16 APRIL 2020

I am a User Researcher at Kainos. My job is to spend time with people who use products or services and empathise with them to understand their needs and pain-points. I then translate this into something tangible to help build a digital experience which makes peoples’ lives easier. That means most of my time is spent with other people (and often with a freshly laid canvas of post-it notes surrounding me).

In this post, I’ll share three ways I’ve adapted my pre-pandemic role to a post-pandemic world in the hope of helping others conduct effective remote user research.

This was the observation room from one of my last usability tests (whilst I was with the participant moderating the session.)

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything about my job – I have gone from meeting with people every day to being confined to the four walls of my house. Initially it wasn’t easy and cabin fever was quick to settle in. Yet, despite that, I am still able to do my job effectively. I feel very fortunate to work for a company that has made it possible for me to continue working and proud that I can still add value.

Me in my home office.

My current project is to build a new digital service for the UK Government. We have a team of Business Analysts, Scrum Masters, Developers, Solution Architects, User Experience (UX) Designers, User Researchers, Delivery Managers – a fairly typical digital delivery team.

Here are three ways I’ve adapted to working in the new world that are enabling me – and may help you – to conduct effective remote user research.

1. Conducting user research and running observation rooms remotely –

I am currently in the evaluative phase of research for my current project. I carried out remote usability testing from home with participants. I’d advise being extremely flexible in terms of dates/times to allow for the adjusted working patterns people have adopted during the current lockdowns in many countries.

To gain consent to take part, I obtained written confirmation in an email in advance of each session and got the participants to acknowledge their consent on video recordings at the start of each session. I used a password-protected Zoom meeting with each participant, during which I shared my screen and gave them control over my mouse to trial a prototype the team had built. You could also use this feature to allow them to remotely sign a consent form if you wanted to do it all in one session.

How I ran remote usability testing and an observation room for the team (without having the whole team dial into the participant meeting and potentially bias the session). It’s still a bit clunky as it requires the facilitator in the middle to sit in silence whilst the audio from one meeting is relayed to the other, but it works!

The UX Designer dialled into the Zoom meeting and shared his screen with a Microsoft Teams meeting so that the rest of our team could observe the sessions without influencing the participant session.

I shared a guide to the session in advance so that the team could recall what hypotheses were were testing and what we were looking out for. The team then wrote observations in a shared document using  Microsoft Teams meeting notes functionality (I built a template to facilitate this). I decided to use this primarily so everything they needed would be in one tool and the team wouldn’t have to switch between the meeting view and another window.

2. A collaborative space to unpick findings –

As a team, we used Mural to put the current designs onto a virtual whiteboard and unpick them against the usability findings. It is a brilliant tool for online collaboration. We added observations on post-it notes and drew circles around areas for improvement.  This got the team working together and aligned quickly over how the design would change for the next iteration.

I’ve had a anonymise this journey as the digital service is not yet live. However, we used Mural to annotate, draw and make notes about the usability findings and discuss improvements.

3. Utilise resources and guides –

I have also been reading a lot of guides and articles published on best practises that have been published since the pandemic. These have been helpful to get further inspiration and ideas for conducting user research:

https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/user-research/conducting-user-research-while-people-must-stay-at-home-because-of-coronavirus

https://userresearch.blog.gov.uk/2020/04/02/user-research-and-covid-19-crowdsourcing-tools-and-tips-for-remote-research/

In summary, the technology and tools available to us today are well geared up for remote working. Whilst I long for the days where I can meet people in-person again, I am deeply encouraged at how well people are working together and excited by the quality of the outcomes.

If you have any questions, comments, or have tips of your own to share I would love to hear them.