Guidelines for Conducting Effective Remote Design Research

At the forefront of our minds is always the ambition to make progress, whether we are collaborating remotely or in-person with a distance of at least six feet between us. According to Forrester, a company’s capabilities to effectively compete in the digital labour market rely on its readiness to adopt a remote working culture. Adjustments, for example establishing the essential infrastructure and procedures, may be required for successful remote collaboration to be achieved.

Designers working on remote teams often face the challenge of being unable to communicate directly with customers and consumers, which can be a significant impediment.

Designers are no longer reliant on educated guesses as to what users want and where they could experience issues. Instead, research and ethnographic methods are employed, allowing designers to observe users in their natural environment, whether at work or at home. This approach can provide more insight than phone conversations, polls or screen-shares. With remote work now prevalent, it is important to compensate for the lack of physical perception by adapting our methods of engagement with consumers.

Research into the most effective methods for conducting in-person interviews has identified three key details that can easily be overlooked when interviews are conducted solely online. In this post, I aim to share the methods I use to ensure that remote interviews maintain their context and depth without compromising on best practices.

There should be no discomfort for the interviewees.

It is advisable for designers to be flexible when arranging an interview, particularly if it is taking place virtually. Consideration should be given to the interviewer’s time zone to ensure that they can answer questions at a time that is suitable for them. Additionally, mirroring the interviewer’s posture can be beneficial; if they are dressed casually, the designer may wish to adopt a similar style and tone of speech, allowing the interview to take place in a relaxed atmosphere.

Video conferencing has become increasingly commonplace due to the growth of remote work, which brings a number of benefits. Offering customers the choice of their preferred conferencing platform can help to make them feel more relaxed during remote interviews.

It is the responsibility of the designer or manager to ensure that all team members allocate the necessary time to set up their accounts, send out invitations and test the recording features of the chosen communication tool (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts). This will provide team members with a sense of control and confidence when attending the interview.

Learn the user’s context

It is necessary to assign a team member to take notes and photographs of the user’s environment to capture contextual information. To ensure successful remote working, the designer must invest extra time and effort to become proficient in this procedure. The ideal situation would involve filming the interviewee as they explore their locality.

This assignment presents a challenge, however it must be completed. Please inform the candidate that you would like to take a virtual tour of their office ahead of time to prevent them from being taken by surprise. It may be beneficial for them to answer any video calls from a mobile device in order to provide an adequate tour.

At the start of the interview, it is beneficial to explain the objectives of the session and provide a brief overview of the topics that will be discussed. Ideally, the interviewer should have a script outlining the general topics and estimated duration of the interview.

When asking the interviewee to take you on a tour, it is important to provide precise instructions as to what you would like to see. Examples of this could be: “Could you show me where you work?” and “Could you show me where you carry out your cleaning duties?” Taking the time to put yourself in the user’s shoes can help you to gain a better understanding of what is important to them.

Stay on topic.

During interviews, it can be easy to become distracted by conversations that are not necessarily related to the topic of discussion. However, it is important to remember the objectives of the interview and to ask questions that will help to understand the interviewee on a more personal level.

Designers can address this issue by adhering to best practices for conducting interviews. Scheduling the interview in advance and keeping track of the time spent on each topic is essential. It is also important to be inquisitive and engage in conversations on various topics that are relevant. After the initial five to ten minutes of small talk, it is time to start asking the important questions. To ensure the focus of the interview remains on user research, it is advisable to review the activity plan with the interviewee.

While it is feasible to do successful design study, doing so deliberately is essential.

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