How we conduct research to design for different markets
With 20 million users across 6 major markets, how do we make sure the Carousell app experience stays consistent but yet suitable for local use?
Every country has a different set of audience and way of life. As product designers, we have a duty to promote inclusivity by accounting for all kinds of use cases — especially with the region being a melting pot of cultures and languages.
At Carousell, understanding our users through research is fundamental to building a user-centred product. To create valuable and delightful experiences, we have to first understand the needs of the people who use our platform to buy and sell — through user research. There is tremendous value in doing research for different markets, where the tiniest of details such as copy, could make or break the experience.
I knew how to plan research locally. But not overseas. There are very few guides on it that are available. I managed to plan one with my gut but it would’ve been less of a headache if I had some pointers early on. Hence, this short guide was put together based on my experience in conducting a user research trip abroad, sharing some tips on planning, and main takeaways.
Disclaimer: This write-up is not exhaustive and should not serve as the go-to guide for user research overseas. Every research trip is prescriptive and is based on the size, needs, or objectives of the project.
There’re a few things to prepare ahead of time when planning a research trip in a different country.
It’s hard to carry out research alone. Gather a team and delegate tasks such as user recruitment and logistics. You’d also require help with note-taking during interviews. Ask fellow designer/researcher(s) to help with interviewing and get their commitment early—you wouldn’t want burnout from being the only interviewer.
It’s also a great chance to involve your project stakeholders like your Product Manager, the Country Team, Customer Support, Engineers etc., to meet the users and understand their problems first-hand.
A team brief is essential. Audit whatever information already known and brainstorm unknowns you’d like to find out. Align on these objectives so that the interview sessions will be laser-focused. Conduct briefs before the trip to clarify any doubts and also to show how an interview is conducted. After the trip, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to get buy-in for design decisions with your stakeholders backing you up.
Recruiting and Scheduling Users
This bit should not be underestimated — recruiting requires time and effort. Start by getting a list of users with specific selection criteria (I usually reach out to my Data Analyst — much thanks, Baoyao). We vary and pick our participants with great consideration—gender, age groups, ethnic groups, categories they buy and sell—to get a holistic viewpoint. Also include extremes—those who buy and sell a lot… or not at all!
Next, send out a questionnaire to qualify the respondents and confirm their attendance. It’s also helpful to recruit more in case of last-minute bails (which happens way too often).
Additionally, keep in mind while scheduling to include buffer time for breaks and late-comers. If your participants are unavailable during work-hours, consider scheduling after work-hours or over the weekend. Don’t pack too many interviews in a day and do leave ample time to digest the data.
If your interviews aren’t held at the local office, scout for a conducive and easily-accessible spot for setting up your equipment and conduct your interviews. It could be a cafe like Starbucks with convenient power outlets and suitable tables and chairs.
If you are in a country where English isn’t the first language, I’d definitely recommend having someone who knows the local tongue around to capture little nuances and expressions that add richness to your data.
Here’s a checklist to make sure you don’t miss out anything.
✅ Book flights and accommodations
✅ Stationery (Post-its and Sharpies)
✅ Interview schedule and participants’ contact details
✅ Recording equipment (tripods and cameras with plenty of space)
✅ NDA and participant approval forms
✅ Swag and incentives (optional)
During the Trip
Prep work was rough. But you’re not quite done yet!
Remind your participants about the interview session with the venue and scheduled time a day or two before. It’ll help double-confirm their attendance and plan for last minute bails.
Alas, it’s the time you’ve been waiting for. Introduce yourself and your note-taking partner and provide some context on why you’re interviewing. Making them comfortable is key to extracting ‘juicy’ information. Prepare a list of essential questions but also make sure the session is not too rigid— flow with the conversation and you might discover things you didn’t know before.
At the end of each day, gather for a short debrief to share insights and interesting unknowns. Do also suggest improvements for upcoming sessions, if any. Also, appoint someone to take down notes for review. Lastly, end the day early, have a good meal, and rest up for the next day.
By the end of the trip, you’d probably gotten a whole lot of useful information and can’t wait to share it with the rest of your team. Well done! You’ve got a rough idea of what would work and what wouldn’t—but don’t jump the gun yet! It’d be overwhelming if you offload all that information in your head at a go.
Take additional time to sieve through the data and pick out essential bits, review video recordings, and prepare anecdotes/quotes to represent your participants’ problems. When you’ve summarised your points, become the voice of your participants and share your learnings to the rest of your team. You‘ll see the fruit of your labor unfold — the findings from a well-executed research has profound potential to shape the development of features suitable for your users in their local context (and prevent costly mistakes).
This is my perspective, but what has worked for you? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please get in touch via LinkedIn.
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