5️⃣How to prep for remote research

👋🏼 Introduction

“Remote testing has many advantages. You can choose from a much wider pool of users. People are in their own environment where they're comfortable, rather than some testing lab or office where they feel on display. And once you transition to the prototype, in most cases the tester won't even see you anymore (because they switched tabs) and they get more comfortable talking than they would in an in-person test.”— Amr Khalifeh, AJ&Smart

1️⃣ Before the call

Check if they have a reliable setup when recruiting.

For remote research, users need a good internet connection, access to a laptop with a video camera, and a quiet place from which they can take a call. Video calls on phones while sharing a prototype don’t work too well.

Send a how-to guide.

Don’t assume your interviewee has used the meeting or prototyping software you’re using. Give them simple step-by-step instructions in the email for them to complete any setup needed.

Expect people not to show up.

Sending people reminders helps them remember that there's a human on the other end who will be in trouble if they don't show up without prior notice! Recruit 2-3 extra users in case the scheduled ones don’t show up.

Setup an extended display if possible.

You’ll need to be able to share your screen, observe participant actions and facial expressions, have talking points handy, and jot down quick reminders or follow-ups.

Use remote access features on a tool like Zoom

This removes the need to share links, and the interviewee having to navigate the link on their end. With the remote access feature, participants can interact with the prototype through screen sharing.

Be creative in low connectivity environments

There are many ways to conduct research in low connectivity. You can record prototypes as a video and send them over WhatsApp while on call. The video downloads completely so the experience is not patchy for the user.

2️⃣ On the call

Keep your video on

It automatically adds a ton of warmth and presence to the interview.

Be extra friendly

Video drains about half the energy from a conversation, so you’ll have to project more energy in your interviews, be extra attentive, and give lots of verbal and non-verbal clues that you’re listening.

Hide your team

Having the full team visible in the room can be intimidating. Make sure your teammates turn off their video. Ideally, find a way to hide or minimize them in the video call with your customer.

Keep time for setup

After a user joins, make sure you account for time needed for any troubleshooting

3️⃣ Prepare to Troubleshoot

Be patient when something goes wrong

It can be frustrating to guide participants to finding the mic button on Google Meet or when they click the Leave Call button by mistake and you’re waiting for them to come back. Remember it’s hard for everyone, and you can make the situation better by being kind.

Have a reliable channel for communication with the participant in case of glitches

Whatsapp is a decent option. Be patient, and lighten the mood while you try these steps from AJ&Smart’s troubleshooting cheat sheet.

ScenarioHow to help users

Customer’s webcam doesn’t work or they don't want to share video

Tell them it's okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s not a must-have.

Customer’s mic doesn’t work

Help them troubleshoot (be prepared to tell them where to click in your conferencing tool and Mac/PC settings). Be prepared to call them on their cell and use that for audio. (Tip: have some Skype credit to call internationally, have Skype Call Recorder installed to record the call)

Customer’s screen sharing doesn’t work

Guide them to where they should click. Be prepared to guide them on exactly on how to do it (e.g. "Now click Add to Chrome. Do you have it? Cool, you can close that and go back to the video call and try clicking the screen sharing button again...")

Customer’s computer is too slow to load the prototype or screen share

Have the prototype open and your machine and be prepared to share your screen and demo from your side instead. Ask them where they would want to click next and do the clicking for them.

Customer joins on mobile but you need them on desktop (even though you told them several times before)

Ask them if they can switch to a computer or get to one relatively soon. Be prepared to let them go and call a backup tester instead (and obviously have backup testers, see below…)

Expect your main recording tool to fail

Always record the call using two tools.

4️⃣ Further reading

The Remote Design Sprint Guide

Remote Design Sprints: Jake Knapp and friends whiteboard demo!!

Remote user testing during lockdown

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