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As we navigate new restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most industries are wondering how they can continue advancing their work. The pandemic has forced a complete reimagining of almost every professional workflow. One exception is in the User Experience (UX) world, where remote UX research has been thriving and is continuing to thrive under quarantine conditions.

People have been and will continue doing everything differently, including how they make their livelihoods, how they buy food, and even how they navigate their social lives. These rapidly evolving changes create a challenge within the field of UX research. It is critical to consider the fact that most people are living under a constant threat of uncertainty during the current pandemic, which makes decision-making and behaviors of users completely unpredictable. Anything that you thought you knew about your users may be null under these new circumstances, because any prior experiences of users happened in a world that no longer exists (and may never exist again).

Organizations are asking, "How can we take our remote UX research to the next level during this time of social distancing?" Companies that understand the value of receiving feedback from the user as an imperative piece f research and design process are tasked with implementing flexible, remote-friendly data collection methods. At Fors Marsh Group (FMG), we realize that user-centric research is now more important than ever. To help clients become successful in adapting to a remote-only UX research approach, we've outlined three pandemic-proof best practices. 

FMG’s Best Practices for Pandemic-Proof UX Research

Identify Appropriate Tools

Choosing the right tools is fundamental to the pandemic-proofing process. There are multiple factors to consider during the foundational user research phase (and throughout the entire human-centered design process). Before initiating any research efforts, answer the following questions: How can your research be as inclusive as possible? What technology will your participant have access to? What quarantine environment will your participant be in? How does that affect the confidentiality, honesty, and accuracy of their answers to your interview questions? Do they need to share a screen? What happens if they are unable to?

The answers to these questions will guide you as you pick the appropriate tool for your research needs. While Skype and Zoom have the advantage of mainstream popularity and user-friendly screen-sharing capabilities, options like Figma and Adobe XD can work better for remotely presenting design concepts and prototypes. Other collaborative platforms such as Whimsical, Miro, and Mural include flowchart, wireframe, mind-mapping, and other tools to help get participants or UX team collaborators working together in a digital space.

Create Workarounds for Technology Restrictions

Organizations have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to enhance their remote capabilities. Almost all UX methods have a remote alternative, whether you are exploring user-centered development of information architectures via card-sorting or using video conferencing for user interviews. Aside from remote options, there are a variety of procedures that are virtual by nature, such as surveys or diary studies, that still fall under the umbrella of traditional UX methodology. Given this perspective, the restrictions that have been put in place as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic could be viewed as a chance to optimize and extend organizations’ UX toolboxes.

It is best to develop testing that is compatible with desktops, smartphones, and tablets, and to do so with moderated usability testing in mind, as being able to observe the user interacting with your prototype is typically preferable for research. However, there has been an increase in unmoderated remote usability testing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unmoderated testing can avoid complications that could arise due to screensharing and can potentially provide a stronger sense of confidentiality as well as unfiltered engagement with your prototype. This is especially important when researching sensitive topics or seeking unbiased feedback from participants considering they are likely in lockdown with other people at home.

Measure the Impact

The role of UX research has never been more relevant or crucial than in the time of quarantine and lockdowns. During this pandemic, marginalized groups are facing even more challenges and inequality than before, and therefore a need for crisis-responsive user research will be vital to support these groups of users as they withstand and recover from it. Although UX’s role is more relevant than ever, researchers still need to be cognizant of how to measure their impact and assess whether their work is creating a positive change in the world. The first step towards initiating impactful UX research is to have the intention to do good at each stage of the design process. In order to move from intention to action, it is critical to keep vulnerable populations at the forefront of your conversations with clients throughout the entirety of the research design process. Measuring the impact of your UX research can then be done by collecting quantitative and qualitative data via usability testing and other user research methods. By measuring the impact of projects on our most vulnerable populations and researching with the intention of doing good for those in the most need, we can use UX research to implement positive change in the world.

FMG: Your Remote UX Research Resource

While it might seem challenging for some to navigate remote research, FMG is here to help organizations with pandemic-proofing their UX research. As organizations mature in their remote research capabilities, lessons will be learned, mistakes will be made, and milestones will be achieved—steps synonymous with the pillars of UX design principles. Fortunately, the UX world is better prepared for remote research than most other industries because we have historically been using remote testing to access geographically diverse and difficult-to-recruit populations. By staying true to our UX design philosophies and using these best practices, all we can do as a global UX community is keep calm and carry on researching.

To learn more about FMG’s UX capabilities, visit our customer experience page.

About the author

Marwa Moaz

Marwa Moaz is a bilingual mixed methods researcher who has conducted ethnographic research in New York, DC, Israel, and the West Bank.  Marwa began working at FMG in the Fall of 2019 as a Communications Researcher for the Public Service Recruitment team. As a RIVA-trained focus group moderator, Marwa has used her qualitative expertise to inform and design the execution of interviews, focus groups, surveys, and independent ethnographic studies for development of brand advertising, evaluation of Generation Z, exploration of relations between Israel and the West Bank, and studies on experiences of Muslim Americans in the United States. Marwa received a BA and MA in Sociology from The George Washington University and is currently enrolled as a PhD student in Communications at American University.

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