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Tips for conducting international user research

This week I’ve once again been conducting and overseeing an international user research project, so I thought I’d share with you my top tips for finding trusted research partners, managing and conducting international research projects.

 

Finding a trusted partner

When it comes to conducting user research in another country, your biggest challenge will be finding an agency you can trust to:

  • Be there for you when you need them.
  • Communicate well enough in your language that nothing is lost in translation.
  • Have good project management in place.
  • Find good quality participants/users.
  • Provide a good quality technical setup.
  • Conduct user testing well (many aren’t used to this).
  • Not rip you off.

 

Beware of time zone differences

With any agency you use, it’s important they are there for you when you need them. If you send them a message about a project, you will need to take into consideration the differences in time zones as it can cause delay to your projects.

I’ve recently been working with an agency in New York and on another project with Mexico, so have had to be flexible with my hours, working into the late evenings for calls and emails.  I also have to bear in mind that when I want something the next morning, I’ll have to wait until 2pm at the earliest to receive a reply.

 

Good communication is crucial

You’ll need to check both their written and verbal ability to speak your language. It’s no point them conducting great research, if they can’t communicate the results well in the report or presentation. For example, I find that people in some Asian countries write English very well but it’s more difficult to understand their spoken English especially as we’re often communicating over the phone/internet so the line isn’t always very clear.

 

Project management needs to be awesome

Leading on from communication, their project management needs to be really tight. How are they getting on with their recruitment? When are they seeing their first user? How did the first interview go? Do they have any concerns? You shouldn’t need to chase them too much, a good partner will be pro-active in letting you know where they’re up to and any potential issues in the project.

 

Finding good quality participants

It can be difficult enough finding a good user recruitment agency in your own country, nevermind one in a different country where you don’t speak the same native language or know the culture. You’ll need to feel certain the agency can recruit your user types and do it in the time they state. Trust your gut feeling and beware of costs that appear too low as they may be using methods that are easier for them but attract lower quality participants.

 

Technical setup

Always ask for a sample of a previous research video, to check the moderator or agency’s previous recording quality. Check the video and audio quality, especially where devices and screens are involved. You’ll also need to check that they have the equipment and software to test mobile devices.

 

Can the agency conduct user testing?

This is something you’ll need to check. If they say they do user testing, you’ll also need to check to confirm they’re telling the truth – many market research agencies have added this on to their list of services without any experience. It doesn’t necessarily stop me from using them  – it depends on the project and I may decide to spend a little time training them over Skype if, for example, the website testing is a smaller part of the research hour.

 

Are they ripping you off?

I’ve certainly experienced receiving a quote from a research agency or a recruitment agency in another country that I knew was far too high. Watch out for agencies who see you’re from (the UK in my case) and hike their prices up. If I feel they’re way too high and they’re taking the mick, I’ll simply go to another agency. If I feel they’re slightly too high I’ll address it directly with them to see if they’ll come down. Remember, for some countries, negotiating and haggling prices is expected.

 

Add additional translation time

Translation is one of those activities that takes far longer than you expect. If you’re getting a translator in your own country to translate research conducted in another language, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, then add some more as a buffer!

 

Need help?

Need help with international research? keepitusable.com

Need help with recruiting users in other countries? iNeedUsers.com

 

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My nightmare user recruitment experience…

As someone who has worked both client and agency side, I can tell you that I’ve found it very difficult finding good participant / user recruitment agencies. The country where I’ve had the most issues has been the UK and I believe this may be because of the recent explosion and in cases exploitation of ‘UX’. Companies who traditionally recruit participants for market research, have added UX, usability testing, user research recruitment to their list of services without making any changes to how they approach the recruitment.

 

My nightmare experience…

One experience that I remember very well (because the recruitment was an absolute nightmare!) was a project that my agency Keep It Usable was conducting for a global retailer. This was several years ago, when we used specialist recruitment agencies to find our participants for us. We had done everything for them to prep, including writing the screener, so all they had to do was promote it and screen people to find our users. It was a very niche user group (roughly about 3% of the population) so we made sure to give them plenty of time to recruit (about 5 weeks) and they were certain there would be no issues.

You can probably guess what happened next… with one week to go they told me they had found it impossible to recruit even one person for me! One week! With such a niche user group and only a week to go, no other agency would take the recruitment so we had no other option but to bite the bullet and pull out all the stops to try and recruit users ourselves. We did it! It wasn’t easy but we managed to do in one week what an experienced recruitment agency couldn’t do at all.

I guess this was the starting point for me in not trusting participant recruitment agencies. I’m very conscientious about the work we do (in fact in my school reports the word conscientious cropped up all the time), and the reputation of our work was potentially at risk if this happened again.

 

4 weeks notice…. really???

Another problem I had with agencies was that they needed at least 4 weeks notice which is just ridiculous in the world of UX. 4 weeks notice is a real luxury that us UXers just don’t have.

We’re iterative! We’re lean! We do things fast!

 

The solution…

Not being afraid to innovate and pioneer, we decided that if no one did UX recruitment up to our standards and the needs of us as UXers, then we’d just go ahead and create an agency that did! We’ve been testing and refining our recruitment methods over the past 2 years and after many happy clients, we’re now opening up the best user recruitment experience to you too.

 

Welcome to I Need Users

I hope you like the name 🙂 I Need Users is a specialist user recruitment agency for UX research. Founded by and run by UX experts, who totally understand your needs and the research you do.

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Bonus….there’s a loyalty scheme too!

Why shouldn’t you be rewarded for your investment into improving user experiences? My original motivation for getting into UX was to make the world an easier, less frustrating place to live in through our everyday interactions. So, to encourage you to invest in your UX and improve your experiences (as well as of course your conversion), every time you buy user recruitment through I Need Users, you’ll receive loyalty points that can be swapped for fantastic rewards!

You can also earn points for any spend with our full service UX agency Keep It Usable and our pioneering UK based UX Lab HomeUXLab.com

 

I’d love to hear about your experiences – have you had any nightmare user recruitment experiences?

 

You might also be interested to read:

Top 10 major risks of poor user recruitment

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Don’t use one way mirrors for ux research

Do you use one way mirror labs? Do you value research that gets you the best results? Then you might want to re-consider using one way mirrors. Here’s why…

Talking to users is fascinating! It’s something I still love doing despite having conducted thousands of them over the last 10 years. When it comes to location, you can test almost anywhere but there’s one place that I now advise against, and that’s one way mirror labs.

What is a one way mirror lab?

A one way mirror lab (also known as two way) consists of two adjoining rooms with a mirror between them. One room is used to interview people and the mirror functions as a normal mirror from this side. On the other side of the mirror is the observation room where people watch the research taking place, from this side the mirror behaves as a window, enabling the observers to secretly observe what’s happening in the research room.

The negative consequences for research

I’ve used this setup many times and I’ve sat on both sides of the mirror. These are the problems:

Nervous users

As a researcher you should always tell the participant that there are observers behind the mirror. However, if I say to you now, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think about is a pink elephant. In psychology we call this the Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Principle and it refers to the human tendency to continue to think about something after being told not to think about it.

So we’re ethically bound to tell people there are people behind the mirror but by doing that their attention is being drawn to it. Many users are fine with this and they’ll forget about the mirror. There are other users who will interview ok but afterwards they will mention how they felt like they were being watched and finally, some people simply do not interview well. They may appear nervous, glance at the mirror throughout, whisper some answers to you because they don’t want the people behind the mirror to hear any negative feedback, etc. And the mirror is a difficult thing for people to get over once they have a problem with it, because it’s such a huge object in the room and therefore a constant reminder.

Ask yourself, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable knowing there were people watching you behind a mirror in the room?

Positively biased responses

If you knew there were a group of people watching you behind a mirror wouldn’t you be more inclined to give positive responses and to withhold negative opinions? But it’s really important that we understand negative feedback in order to make things better.

Sound leakage

Your observers need to be relatively quiet. I’ve seen labs provide headphones so that observers can turn audio volume up without sound leaking into the testing suite.

When two rooms are next to each other, it’s impossible to soundproof them completely. If the observers next door get quite loud, the sound can leak into the adjoining room. This can be fatal if they laugh and the user hears this. In some labs, the doors don’t close quietly either – this is then another reminder to the participant that there are people watching them.

Noisy cameras

One way mirror labs almost always have cameras that can be controlled in the observation room. These aren’t always silent though. You might be in the middle of a really interesting insight when suddenly you hear the buzz of the camera. Off-putting to say the least and yet another reminder to the user that they are being watched.

Dark, uninspiring observation room where no one speaks

Observation rooms in labs are awful places really. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, the lights have to be turned off (otherwise you can see straight through the mirror) so it’s a dark, dull, uninspiring room to be sat in all day. In one way mirror labs sometimes the observers can be much quieter than in labs without a mirror, because you can see how close the participant is to you.

The problem is these are great setups for observing research, especially focus groups, not UX research. If you have a team of designers observing research, the one thing they’re guaranteed to want to do is sketch, but how do they do that well when they’re sat in a dark room? It’s not an environment that encourages team collaboration, makes a team feel energised, inspired and creative. Conversation and teamworking should be encouraged – now’s the perfect time for the team to collaborate and get to work on designs.

Ironically, no one really observes what’s happening through the mirror!

We spend most of our time watching the TV screens, which give us consistent detail, clarity and control. The glass, for all its glamour, doesn’t always fulfil its worth.

In UX research, the most important interaction to focus on is that between the user and what’s being tested, and in this regard you can’t see anything through the mirror, the detail is through the cameras pointing at what the user is doing. Therefore, the majority of the time, observers are focussed on the tv screen – where the action is. Compare it to UX design…if you want the users attention to focus on something you might give it a more central position, make it bigger, put everything else around it. So when the UI is the most important thing for people to observe, why do labs show this on a small tv screen and give the highest visual prominence in the room to the mirror? It’s crazy!

The solution

The alternative, better solution is to use two rooms that have all the same technology to record and observe the user and their interaction but in the observation room, there are TV screens and no mirror. GDS (Government Digital Services) also use this setup which you can see here. Without a mirror, you’ll get better insights from your more relaxed users and the observation room can now be a creative haven. You can turn up the lights, have natural daylight (windows), have dynamic team discussions and work together on sketches and ideas.

It suddenly becomes an exciting and inspiring workshop to turn user feedback into better designs! And this, is the whole purpose of user research.

A note from me:

This is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, you can follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin

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Never use the word ‘Test’

When I first started life as a user researcher, it was commonplace (and it it still is) to refer to research as user testing or usability testing. I soon observed that when you use the word ‘test’ it:

a) Implies that you’re testing the end user (which is wrong, you’re testing the interface, you’re understanding of the customer, your user journeys, etc).

b) As soon as you mention the word ‘test’ to a participant they instantly tense up and worry. I used to say something along the lines of ‘please don’t be concerned, we’re not testing you, we’re testing the software’ and even this was too much. It’s a bit like if I say to you, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think of is a pink elephant – you just can’t help it, it’s how the human brain works.

I also noticed that when I used the word ‘test’ sometimes participants would ask me during the research session how they were doing or ask whether they’d got something right. In effect, they were treating it like a test. I haven’t experienced this since I stopped all use of the word ‘test’.

Now, when speaking with participants I always use the word ‘research’ which has a much more positive connotation. Of course, clients still use terms like user testing, and that’s absolutely fine, let’s not undo all the hard work ux professionals have done over the years to gain awareness of what we do, but let’s keep in mind that we’re always researching and aiming to understand things from the perspective of your target audience.

Have fun researching! 🙂

UX Booth guest post: 5 Useful Lies to Tell User Research Participants

user research liesDo you read UX Booth? If you’re interested in User Experience then bookmark it now! It’s been my favourite site for reading interesting and useful UX articles for a number of years now. As such, when I decided to write a guest post, they were my first choice. I decided to write about 5 little (white) lies that can be told during user research interviews to gain higher validity data.

I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and I’ve picked up a few useful techniques along the way to encourage the best out of the people I interview. This includes making them feel more at ease, increasing rappor, gaining trust and encouraging an open dialogue where it is ok to be 100% honest.

Active and passive deception has been used in research for a long time. In the past it was unfortunately used unethically and there are a lot of examples out there of how not to use deception. The Milgram experiment is one of the most known for the psychological and physical damage it caused.

Of course, all the lies I use and recommend are incredibly nice. They’re white lies and many UX researchers use some or even all of them. You don’t have to use any but they are a useful tool to have in your UX toolbox. Enjoy! 🙂

Read the article: 5 Useful Lies to Tell User Research Participants

 

Eye tracking – Should your website use it?

This week I’ve been visiting local usability labs that have eye tracking capabilities as we will soon be offering this added value service to our clients.

What is eye tracking?

Eye tracking uses non-intrusive technology to track where the user’s eyes are looking. It is often used for usability testing websites, software, mobiles, adverts, even shopping malls (there’s a lot of psychology that goes into where to place that can of Heinz!).

Testing involves the user using a website to perform tasks and is often accompanied by a satisfaction questionnaire. Afterwards, the users gaze path and fixations (basically what they looked at and for how long) can be watched and analysed. All the users data can also be combined into a heatmap so you can see which areas of each page attracted the most attention from users – did they even look at the big advert in the middle of your homepage?

Is it worth the extra time, effort and cost?

There’s a lot of disagreement amongst professionals as to whether eye tracking is worth the extra time and effort required to analyse the data and whether it really brings more value to usability testing. From speaking to those professionals that do use it, it is clear that businesses and in particular marketing departments are more persuaded and engaged by this testing method. Perhaps this is because marketing departments are more concerned about users noticing their promotions and advertising than finding out the hows and whys of users that visit their site.

I’m of the opinion that some websites are better suited to standard usability testing methods, some are better suited to eye tracking and others may benefit most from a mixture of both.

Video showing user’s scanpath
(the bigger the circle, the longer the user is looking at that point)

Video showing the use of heatmaps

Eye tracking is most useful when you want to test:

  • Page elements – To assess how much people notice ui elements onscreen, such as logos, promotions, calls-to-action, etc.
  • Navigation – To identify any conflicting terms as well as how different navigation layouts interact with each other.
  • Page layout – To show how a page layout and colour scheme affect the way users scan a page.

Eye tracking is least useful if you want to:

  • Gather user feedback – In order to generate an accurate heat map users can’t be asked too many questions as they’ll often look  away from the screen when answering questions.
  • Know why – Eye tracking will tell you what people look at and what they don’t look at but it won’t tell you why.
  • Test on a budget – Eye tracking is more expensive as it involves the hiring of technology and extra time to analyse the results. Stick with regular methods if you’re budget is limited.

I hope this basic introduction to eye tracking has been useful. If you are interested in seeing how real users actually use your website (with or without eye tracking) then give me a shout. You can observe the user testing in person (in the observation room) or we can stream the sessions live from the testing lab directly to your computer.