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Clients and UX Research: Love at First Sight

At Versett, we strive to evolve our UX Research practice everyday. It’s still a fairly new addition to our tool belt but we’ve already experienced successes, along with our share of challenges and roadblocks. We have employed a number of research methods across different projects including both in-person and remote methodologies. We’re still learning while trying to better integrate UX Research into our processes, particularly how to involve stakeholders in usability testing sessions.

As ideal as it sounds, it’s actually quite challenging to involve stakeholders in testing sessions, especially within our own industry (client based design agencies) for a few different reasons:

  • Our clients are from all around the world. From Vancouver to Toronto, New York City to Paris. This means that someone, either the client or the researcher, would have to travel every week if they’d like to observe ideal, iterative usability testing sessions. Proposing this to clients who might already be hesitant about user research can be a really tall order.
  • In-person observation takes time. Just take into account the number of hours that the client would have to commute back and forth from their office to your testing lab. Inevitably, there are always no-shows in each round of testing as well. Needless to say, those hours add up pretty quickly, too.
  • Although we always produce video highlights for all our usability studies to try and engage the stakeholders as much as possible, we can never really know if they will take the time to watch the videos.
  • Finally, it is not only about external stakeholders’ involvement, but also that of the internal team. Oftentimes, especially in fast-paced projects, researchers need to sell UX research and testing both externally AND internally to the design team. Because, let’s face it, more research means more work for the designers, so you will have to prove the value of research to the designers, too.

That’s why we started running live, moderated remote usability studies for one of our New York City-based clients in the travel industry. That is, instead of running the tests in person or on online platforms (e.g. usertesting.com), we ran them in real-time via a video conferencing app and asked all the stakeholders to join the call as well.

Since the audience for our target platform was very niche, we asked our client team to recruit the right participants while making sure that none of them had any previous experience working with the tool before. They were all potential buyers of the tool, however, which made their feedback even more valuable.

Ask for an opportunity, and seize it

Does this (involving stakeholders in usability studies) still sound super idealistic? Initially, it did to us as well. While it seemed like something that we came across in user research articles and wondered, “How would that even be possible within the agency world?” we discovered that it is possible. Here is how you might approach it:

Once you hear statements like “We are not sure about how users will respond to this change” from the client, that should light up the “usability testing” bulb in your mind. This is an opportunity to steer the conversation towards usability testing and propose running at least a single round of study to figure out the pain points with your product. Make sure to mention that these studies will have a very quick turn-around time, will involve the stakeholders, and will gather unbiased feedback from the people who are ultimately going to use the product.

Basically, you are asking your client to give you a chance. Next, your job is to take this chance and get the client excited about research insights, and more importantly, improved product usability.

A few housekeeping items

Planning for a live remote test is pretty similar to any other remote or in-person study. The only difference is that the researcher needs to send the participant and all the stakeholders the proper link and credentials to the call (either on Skype or Zoom or any other platform) beforehand. We also recommend reminding them the day before.

During the session, you will send out your prototype links to the participants and ask them to share their screen and think out loud while they are going through the tasks. A few housekeeping items to note:

  • Introduce everyone present on the call to the participant right off the bat so that they are not intimidated by the number of callers.
  • As always, make it clear to the user that you will be testing an early prototype, and any honest feedback is much appreciated and impactful. Mention that none of the callers have been involved in the design of the product, therefore the user doesn’t need to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings!
  • Ask your client to help you take notes if they aren’t already doing so. This will help them stay engaged (instead of muting the conversation and watching Youtube videos instead!).
  • Ask your client to be a “fly on the wall” during the test. However, make sure you give them enough time to ask any follow-up questions they might have, but only after the study tasks are wrapped up. They probably have better contextual knowledge about the area they are working on and might be able to actually transform your pure usability study into a contextual inquiry session.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Test fast and often: it’s one of those cliché statements that you read in every user research book, but we actually managed to achieve that with live, moderated remote usability studies.

We followed our test sessions with quick, 15-minute debriefs involving the client, UX researcher and our product designers. During this conversation, we quickly went through all our notes, and identified the pain points and the action plan for the following days. Designers worked during the next few days to implement the feedback and present the new screens for review during our weekly call with the client.

Because of the super fast-paced nature of the studies, there is no need (and frankly no time) for extensive, 100-page reports. Instead, you can actually ask the client to help with writing the report by taking notes throughout the studies. As noted earlier, this also helps keep them more engaged with the study. All you have to do as a researcher is to gather people’s notes and points of view, eliminate the ones that may have been biased, and compile them into a more readable format. Easy, breezy.

Within three weeks, we were able to run three rounds of usability studies and iterate on our designs — something that I couldn’t imagine being possible within the agency world.

The opportunity… seized!

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Perhaps the greatest benefit of involving the client isn’t actually about test findings or design tweaks — it’s about experiencing what a testing session looks like. Moreover, clients generally appreciate when the study plan is kept short and focused. Despite running our tests on a very small piece of the product, each session still took about an hour and already seemed to be tiring the participant and stakeholders. God knows how the session would have unfolded had we wanted to tackle the whole product and ask all of our clients’ questions in one go.

Versett is based out of Calgary, New York and Toronto, our client was based out of New York, and the participant was from Amsterdam. To accommodate our participants, the session was scheduled for a very early 5 AM MST (my time)! But I had to seize the chance, and it was worth sacrificing some sleep for it. The client was happy with the outcome and they even suggested integrating the same technique into other pieces of product:

“As it relates to user study sessions, we would love to go off the success of our first run, and study the designs for the next project too!”

Do you have experience involving clients in the UX Research process? I would love to hear from you!


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