Now that we are all socially distant for a few weeks, it is clear to many that our tools and creativity enable us to do much more remotely than we previously thought possible.
Last month we planned a number of projects that would shift personal research to remote research. Fortunately, we were prepared for this because our twelve-member research team has a lot of experience with a range of methods and tools for remote research.
While we do not believe that remote research will ever completely replace personal testing, remote research certainly has its merits, and these merits are particularly valuable in this time of limited personal contact. We look forward to exploring the strengths of distance research while expanding our practice.
In this post, we will discuss four of our preferred remote research methods:
Each example is illustrated using real-world examples from members of our research team who provide insight into how the tools are used.
To give you an idea of how they will be used, the table below lists some of the ways in which we have switched our planned personal research to remote research using some of these methods.
Since we have experience with all of them, we know that they will offer great insights to our customers in different phases of product design and approval.
Distance research has always been an important part of the consumer and technology industry, but is less common in the medical technology industry. The more medical devices from specialized rooms such as hospitals and medical practices reach our homes, the clearer the value of distance research becomes.
The more medical devices from specialized rooms such as hospitals and medical practices reach our homes, the clearer the value of distance research becomes.
Remote research is particularly useful for early-stage research, such as identifying user needs, testing early concepts, and understanding workflows, whether it is part of developing a new product or revising a product that is already on the market.
Nevertheless, remote research for research objectives without a thorough evaluation should not be excluded under these unusual circumstances. This includes the consideration of distance research methods also for the validation of human factors / summative tests. While the FDA has not yet released specific guidelines for validating human factors, their guidance on clinical trials in the light of COVID-19 suggests that your logs and reports may need to be updated based on the effects of COVID-19, if justified.
There are a variety of methods for distance research, and we cannot cover them all. In this post, we will discuss some of the methods that our team uses regularly and tell a little about how we have implemented them to get results for our customers.
Online interviews with interactive elements
Remote interviews can take many forms, including co-design sessions, concept feedback, expert interviews, and travel mapping / experience mapping. With the help of videos, we can show product usage and exchange concept models remotely via a webcam or set up digital whiteboards for travel maps or co-design meetings.
We make these interviews effective by ensuring that we treat each session as a face-to-face interview that includes adding visual and auditory cues, and sometimes even using a slide deck to conduct the interview.
Because of these interactive elements, we can add additional team members to manage the technology and interactivity of the interviews while the lead researcher moderates the session. This is a good time to involve teammates from other disciplines in research than Notetaker.
Digital Whiteboards enable remote co-design:: “When we were challenged to create travel maps from scratch to illustrate the experience of a user population with a medical device, we knew that co-design was the best way for us to quickly collect large amounts of data. We faced an obstacle: this user population could not come to us personally due to comorbidities associated with their disease. As a solution, we structured the study so that it can be carried out flexibly, either personally or remotely.
We faced an obstacle: this user population could not come to us personally due to comorbidities associated with their disease.
We created digital whiteboards, including travel frameworks, created by participants as they would have been with sticky notes and stickers if we had met in person. When COVID-19 started influencing our studies, it quickly switched to all remote sessions. All participants are now calling to plan their trips with us, even if they are miles away.
A normal phone interview would have left us with no visual artifacts from our research, but these remote co-design sessions provide us with a clear, actionable direction when we create our final travel maps. “- – Jemma Frost
Remote context query
One of the main ways we complete basic research at the start of a project is through contextual investigation. There is no substitute for being there and watching participants in their real world, but we can get pretty close to distance research through diary studies and online bulletin boards. These tools give participants more time to think about their experiences and think critically.
Diary studies Inform a travel card:: “When working with a customer who provided glasses directly to the consumer, we have the buying process, the out-of-box experience (including unboxing and first time use) and then the first two weeks of use in a variety of environments recorded.
The diary approach enabled us to examine a variety of important customer contact points and to perform analyzes on the go (reported on the purchase decision and then immediately ready for use before the study was completed). Participants recorded video diaries, but in many cases we asked them to consider an activity or area before recording their video.
In the end, we provided the customer with a summarized travel map (including emotional ups and downs) and recommended adjustments to the customer experience he provided. “- – Maddy Ross
In-home video observation provides insights: “Capturing a user’s natural behavior in context is one of the biggest challenges in user research. The presence of the researchers often changes the behavior of the participants. Remote video context monitoring is a useful tool to capture consumer behavior in its natural environment.
To do this, a video camera must be set up with which users can be recorded 24 hours a day over several days. We found that most participants lost awareness of the admission and behaved naturally after a day or two.
Remote video context monitoring is a useful tool to capture consumer behavior in its natural environment.
In a project for a consumer tech company that I carried out a few years ago, we learned a lot about the passive and unintentional use of television and how participants actively use it. We have gained insights into using TV with mobile devices. how it serves as a teaching tool for children; how it becomes the link between family members; and more generally how television serves as part of family life. The video also allowed us to analyze the use of television over time by different users and in different situations. The findings drove the development of a “family TV” concept.
While there are certainly restrictions on where this method can be used (e.g. using toilet paper in a pandemic?), The result often provides surprising insights into consumer behavior. “- – Ryan Chen
Online usability tests for digital products
We have been using online usability tests for digital products (websites and apps) for years, but now is a good time to explore the merits and methods. These sessions can be expanded or contracted to fill the time it takes to provide the necessary feedback.
Online usability tests for a function can only take five minutes. These can be moderated real-time sessions or asynchronous, non-moderated sessions that participants can use in their free time. An advantage of these sessions is that they are recorded and allow for a more detailed examination of the tasks.
Online usability tests can be moderated real-time sessions or asynchronous, non-moderated sessions that participants can conduct on their own.
Most online tools have their own panels to make recruiting a little easier, especially for general population users. This type of session enables us to quickly collect targeted usability data on important functions.
Online usability tests identify app pain points: “We recently completed a project for a Med Sumer smartphone app that people can use to change their behavior. Online usability tests were part of the four-step research process and were integrated to obtain fast, asynchronous usability data. This test took approximately 20 minutes, examined four to five main tasks in the app and was completed with 30 participants from the general population.
It took us just over three weeks to set up the test prototype, select and set up an online tool with assignments and a participant screener, recruit participants, run the test, review the results, and actionable insights to improve the app receive.
We have identified three major fixes to the app, some minor design improvements, and some areas that need to be considered in order for the entire app experience to be considered, the risk to the next research phase of the study, the home use tests (including onboarding and program to decrease progress over time). We were able to create highlight videos from the participant recordings to illustrate where there was confusion and what needs to be fixed in the app. “- – Alex Visconti
Quantitative and qualitative surveys
Surveys are a flexible remote research tool that can be used to answer a variety of research questions in every phase of the product development process. They are often cheaper and faster than personal tests.
Under these restricted conditions, surveys can be a great way to answer pressing questions that should be addressed in face-to-face sessions that are now being postponed. For many people at home, the response rate may be even better than usual.
With so many people at home, the response rate to surveys may be even better than usual.
Surveys can be used to collect qualitative data from a smaller group of participants or quantitative data from a large sample that can be statistically analyzed. For example, we use surveys to identify unmet user needs, prioritize features to implement, select concepts, and predict the effectiveness of potential product improvements. Quantitative surveys in particular are an excellent addition to qualitative methods because they can confirm which findings are likely to be transferred to the broader user population.
Quantitative survey probes non-use of software functions: “We are currently helping a medical device manufacturer to understand how clinicians use the functions in their software. The manufacturer knew that some of the new features weren’t used by as many clinicians as they expected, and a number of remote interviews revealed a number of different underlying causes for them.
Some users were unaware of the feature, some users expected the feature to work differently, and others did not see the value in the feature. In order to adequately address these problems, our customer had to understand which of these underlying causes played the biggest role in not using the individual functions and how effective various possible solutions (such as changes to the software or the marketing approach) would be.
Our customer had to understand which of these underlying causes played the biggest role in not using the individual functions and how effective various possible solutions would be.
Using a quantitative survey, we collect data from a sample of users that we can statistically analyze to understand the main cause of non-use of each feature and to determine whether potential solutions are sufficiently different for users to justify implementation . This is a great example of how qualitative and quantitative methods can work together to get a more complete picture of user behavior and risk reduction in business decisions. “- – Sarah Fairchild
Distance research has its advantages and challenges (we are working on a blog post about it!), But we have found that it is useful in many ways. We believe that the time spent learning and perfecting these remote research methods will be useful in the future as the world meets the significant challenges of COVID-19 by becoming more flexible and accustomed to working remotely and research.
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