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Switching from in person to remote UX Research in the time of coronavirus


Zsolt is our design founder with a background in UX design & research. He's behind most of what happens at PingPong. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

The novel coronavirus is forcing entire teams and organizations to learn to work remotely right now: this is creating brand new challenges for many of us carrying out UX research.

At PingPong we only support remote UX research (user interviews and user tests) and our team works remotely too. We also eat our own dog food, running PingPong’s own UX research remotely on PingPong (very meta!). 

While it can be enormously effective, switching to remote UX research when you’re used to doing it in-person can be challenging.

We wanted to share some practical tips and tricks. From the very generic (but ‘easy to fall into’) mistakes, all the way to more advanced remote UX research tips.

Switching from in-person to remote UX research

First, you’ll need a stable, high-bandwidth internet connection. This is something you cannot compromise. You’re doing remote UX research via HD video calls (and likely screen sharing, also). If you have a choppy WiFi connection, we recommend plugging into your router with a cable instead.

You need a calm, silent environment where you can have undisturbed time for your remote UX research. Your remote session is just like conducting an interview in person: you don’t want anyone to disturb you or stroll into the room right when you’re getting deep into an important conversation. can be really helpful to block background noise for both you and the participant.

While the focus in an interview is obviously on the user, having a good webcam of your own is still really important. If the camera on your laptop is subpar, the Logitech C920S is a cheap, effective replacement.

Our more advanced tip is to make sure that your frame is nicely organized:

  • Keep most of your upper body visible
  • Make sure there’s not much space left above and around your upper body & head
  • Make sure you’re not too close to the camera.
  • Make sure your surroundings are not messy.
  • Oh, and try not to sit with a window behind you, or you might end up looking like this scary person: 

A good microphone can be really useful and make a difference. You can save a ton of time if you don’t have to repeat everything because the testers can’t hear you. This is especially true if you are testing with non-native speakers of your language. The Audio Technica AT2020USB is our recommendation (potentially with a mic arm). Yes, we know this sounds a bit hardcore but believe us: a good microphone can make a huge difference. Even if you don’t opt for such a pro setup, do make sure that you’re definitely not using your computer’s built in microphone.

Test your setup: If this is your first time running a remote user interview, make sure everything works by testing your setup before your first session starts. If you’re using PingPong, we highly recommend taking a pre-call test to ensure everything is working correctly.

Consider your participants time zone: make sure you provide times that fit your target audience. Have a look at our tips on scheduling test sessions.

What to pay attention to in a remote research session?

While the surroundings are different, a remote user interview is essentially very much like in person. 

Introduce yourself to the user and tell her what this research is about. Give context and explain what you are looking to learn in detail, so they understand your purpose better and can be more helpful to you.

You’ll generally want to ease the user into the session and make sure they feel comfortable. 

Even though you only have a video, you can read the user’s body language and facial expressions to see if they’re following your questions.

If you cannot see or hear the user perfectly, don’t be shy about asking them to move or fix the microphone, etc.

As a general rule-of-thumb, we recommend starting with easier questions, then move on to the more challenging ones. Check out our more detailed guide on How to conduct remote interviews, for more tips.

Try to get a spectator/note-taker on the call, or record your session: We often recommend coming to the remote research sessions with an extra person as the spectator. Having this person attend will save you time because the spectator can take notes instantly. This is especially useful later on when you’re reviewing the insights of your research, but you can also review recordings within your team after the session ends.

PingPong's Observer feature allows your team members to watch your sessions live. Observers can't talk, chat or interrupt the session in any way.

Remote Research Synthesis

After you've finished all your sessions, your goal is to summarise the important insights and group these to uncover problems and patterns. This is just the same as with in-person UX research, but with very different tools!

We recommend using Mural or Miro as an online whiteboarding tool, where you can easily collaborate and work with your teammates over the sticky notes and insights you gathered on the research.

If you’re using PingPong, you can create clips and export these key moments for sharing and later use. You also have the option to glance over the conversation with the transcriptions to quickly find the most important parts of the recordings.

Absolutely new to remote UX research?

I have 4 slots per week to offer a free remote UX consultation so we can talk about your new challenges, tools and processes to best assess your new situation. No pushy sales talk, of course - just friendly remote UX support!

(If you do specifically want a demo of PingPong, you can always schedule that here.)

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Customer service is incredible, a five-star service/support - they are superstars! I was able to find participants all over the world that will definitely make an impact on our product.

Irene Cazaux

UX Designer