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Research in Times of Quarantine

A simple guide to conduct remote research like a pro.

Illustration by Angie Muñoz

We are facing a global crisis that is forcing us to hack many of our working routines and techniques. As designers, user research is a fundamental part of the process used to understand users’ needs, desires, motivations and struggles. At Propelland, remote research has allowed us to collaborate between studios and with international companies located in different time zones.

We have put together a simple guide to help you master the art of remote research in unprecedented times like these, so if you are ready, let us dive in!

Set up a shared repository

First of all, as we are working remotely, we need to use a collaborative platform.

Create a shared folder in Google Drive or Dropbox, where you will have all the relevant documents of your research such as: research plan, interview guides, interview notes, etc. that way, any of your team members can access that information easily.

Let us start planning

In remote research you need to plan for any technical challenges that may come up during your remote sessions. Here is a simple list of steps to help you overcome them:

  • Establish a clear line of communication to be in contact with the participants, it can be either by email, phone or Whatsapp.
  • Prepare an easy-to-follow instructions document that can be shared with the participants before the interview explaining how to use your conferencing application, how to set a proper interview area, etc.
  • Provide your participants with phone or online dial-in options.
  • Create a backup plan document with: alternative conferencing methods, participants contact information, etc., and share it with everyone on your team who is joining the research sessions in case they need to step in.

Recruiting and scheduling participants

Recruiting is one of the most time consuming steps of research but you can make it more efficient by following this steps:

  • Create a screener survey in Google Forms to share via email, Whatsapp or social media, do not forget to ask for name, phone number, and email address.
  • All the Google Forms answers will convert automatically to rows in a Google Sheets making it easier for you to select the right people and contact them to confirm their participation.
  • Send a Google Calendar invite to the participant with the link to a Zoom meeting and the easy-to-follow instructions you created. *You can also use Calendly for the participants to book their interview.
  • A day before the interview send a reminder via Whatsapp, email or phone call.

Do not forget about compensation!

You can use digital gift cards, many brands already have their own (Amazon, Uber, Netflix, etc.), or groceries delivery services, such as AmazonFresh in the US or Rappi in Latam.

Interview time!

Now it is time to empathize with your users. When interviewing remotely, it is important to create a “virtual space” that helps you connect with your interviewees as deeply as possible. This are some recommendations of how to do so:

  • Keep the webcams on! Participants tend to give more thoughtful responses when seeing the person on the other side of the call.
  • Avoid multitasking: work in pairs, one will interview the other will take notes; mute your Slack, calendar or email notifications and close all your other windows.
  • Take pauses to ask users if they have any questions or need to pause. Unlike in person interviews, reading body language is hard to do when participants are remote.
  • It is really important to ask open-questions to encourage participants to tell you a story. For example, “Think about the last time you bought someone a present. (Pause to allow them to think) Where did you go and who was it for?”
  • Record your conversation and take notes in a shared document in Google Docs so your team can go back to them at any time.
  • Always have your backup plan close by and ask your team to have it too in case of any technical hiccups.

For group sessions:

  • Keep your interview guide short and specific.
  • Prepare a slide deck with instructions to share during the call and to guide the group session.
  • Give numbers to each one of the participants for them to answer in order.
  • Ask them to turn on their microphones only when it is their turn to share their thoughts.

Unmoderated research techniques

If you need a deeper understanding of your users, unmoderated research techniques are a great option. We recommend using a Digital User Diary or a Digital Community, here is how they work:

Digital Diary

For a small group of participants for a short period of time:

  • Ask your participants to document with pictures and video their daily routines, send them easy-to-follow instructions in which you explain in detail how the dynamic works and what you are expecting from them.
  • Use social media for them to upload their content, you can create a closed Facebook group, an Instagram profile or have individual conversations via Whatsapp.
  • Send them daily reminders and thank them for their participation.

Digital Community

For a large group of people (30–50 participants) for a long period of time:

  • Create a closed Facebook group.
  • Each day you will give the participants a prompt that they will answer with a long paragraph or by uploading a video.
  • Give them the opportunity to build on other participants’ contributions.

Our favorite tools:

We hope this guide helps you and your team master remote research like we are at propelland. We invite you to share this guide, use it for your next remote research project, and make it your own.

Please drop us a line in the comments with additional best practices for remote research.

Stay safe and keep propelling!

*This is not sponsored content. The author is not affiliated with any of the tools suggested in the article.

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collection of thoughts, tips and ideas from the thinkers, makers and hackers at propelland

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Angie Muñoz

Angie Muñoz

a product and strategic designer merging creativity and reality to create innovative solutions that improve people’s lives

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