In this article we’ll take a look at what remote user research is, how it differs from regular user research, how it can benefit (or doom) your project, what methods and tools to use for remote research, and above all… why you don’t really need to worry about all that at all!
It seems like there is a new mobile application launching in app stores every minute. And one new SaaS platform launching every week. In a market filled to the brim with new solutions for every possible problem imaginable, how do you ensure yours isn’t a failure? Not to mention an even bigger question: how do you stand out?
That’s surprisingly easy. You simply listen to your customers. If you do it well, they will tell you exactly what they need and what you’re missing.
While this answer is brilliantly simple, it’s much harder to execute. How do I collect feedback? When should I do it? What will I need? So many questions. And again, one solution: remote user research.
But let’s start at the beginning. What is user research in general? In layman’s terms, user research – also called “user experience research” – is a practice of collecting information about what the users think about your product and how they interact with it in order to make it better.
This can be done through a battery of experiments, ranging from simple user interviews to usability testing, and beyond. Remote research is the same thing, except it’s done online.
Well, I say it’s the same thing because the effects you want to achieve are the same whether you do research remotely or on-site. You want to learn what pains the users and how you can alleviate that pain. The method, however, will vary.
Learn more about product development from our newsletter. Sign up now and get a dose of Gorrion’s knowledge straight to your inbox!
There used to be a time (pre-2020, if you know what I mean) where remote methods were considered to be “the ugly stepsister,” an inferior way of doing user experience research. I’m here to tell you remote research is not worse, it’s just different.
Yes, it does have it’s drawbacks, but it also has some incredible benefits – both of which we’ll discuss later. In some cases it’s actually the better choice. One could argue that software development is one of these cases.
Before we dig in a little deeper into how to conduct remote research, let’s first discuss what types of user research there are (apart from, obviously, remote and on-site) and why it’s important to distinguish between them.
What research method you choose largely depends on the stage of your project. This is why it’s helpful to distinguish between exploratory (or generative) and evaluative research.
When you are only designing your product, you’ll be doing exploratory research. This means you’ll be looking into how to best solve a problem people have, so that you can later design a perfect product that answers user needs.
When you already have a product, you do evaluative research. It helps you gauge how good your product is at what it’s supposed to do and hopefully tells you how to improve it.
What type of data you want to collect will determine if you conduct quantitative or qualitative research.
Quantitative research is where you collect a large volume of data points to arrive at a conclusion. For example, you may run A/B tests on your landing page. You’ll design two variants and display them randomly to an qual number of people (so, say, 500 see design A and 500 see design B). Then you evaluate which design was more effective at achieving your predetermined goal (e.g. which one drove more conversions).
Qualitative research is when you take a smaller sample, but ask open-ended questions that provide you with deeper insights, like in the case of conducting in-depth interviews (IDI). There, you may show your design to 10 people and ask them what they think about it. This will hopefully allow you not only to evaluate if they liked it, but also what’s the rationale behind their preferences.
An important thing to distinguish is the difference between synchronous (moderated) and asynchronous (unmoderated) research.
With the former, you’re simply there at the same time your study participants are – think user interviews.
With the latter, the participants perform the tasks in their own time and your assistance isn’t really required (unless they run into some trouble) – think surveys.
Whether you should go with moderated or unmoderated study largely depends on what tests you decided to go with.
Broadly speaking, you could say there are 4 steps you need to take to conduct user research in general.
While this remains unchanged whether you do it online or on-site, there are some considerations you need to take into account when doing remote research. Let’s go through each stage.
Before you start interviewing people and running all sorts of tests, you need to do some prep work. Namely, you have to ask yourself three questions:
You’d be wise not to skip these questions, as they will determine the success of your entire research. To put it bluntly: if you do your prep wrong now, you’ll just sink a lot of money into nothing later.
Now is the time to find the right people for your study. Since you already know who you want to interview, how, and about what, this seems like an easy task. But oftentimes, it is actually not.
For one thing, people don’t necessarily like to give out their time to participate in tests for companies they don’t know for nothing in return. But even if you offer some form of a reward, you might be hard pressed to find the right study group among your connections.
This is where remote research gets ahead. Because you don’t have to consider constraints such as distance or time, it’s much easier to find participants for your study. It also gives you more variety, as you can interview people from different cultures. This effectively ensures your research is more inclusive and thus objective.
It is worth mentioning that sometimes you don’t even need to recruit participants in the traditional sense, particularly for quantitative studies. If you have an already functioning product, such as a web platform, you might collect anonymous data about its usage. Tools such as Hotjar are a great way to gather insights on how users navigate your software without having to actually enroll them in a study.
Once you have your participants, you’re ready to collect data. That’s another point where you might notice the benefits of conducting remote research.
Nowadays there are plenty of remote research tools that practically do the work for you, freeing you to focus entirely on asking the right questions.
In a pinch, there’s also general-purpose software (such as Google Workspace) that you can use for your research if you’re willing to make some sacrifices. For an overview of some useful tools, read on!
Onto the last stage! Now that you did all that hard work collecting the data, it’s time for an even harder job: figuring out what it means. Thankfully, if you asked yourself the right questions in the prep stage, all pieces should fall into place and you should get the answers you need.
I promised you an overview of some remote tools that you might use for your research. Obviously, the choice will vary significantly, depending on your remote research methods.
For example, in a quantitative study you will probably want to conduct some workshops. So, you’ll be interested in collaborative tools that allow you to simulate workshop conditions online, like virtual whiteboards. Meanwhile, for a quantitative study, you’ll naturally be interested in tools for data collection and analysis.
Here are some remote user research tools that we like at Gorrion, divided into their respective categories. Mind you, some of these platforms have multiple uses, so they may fit into more than one category.
In case it’s not already patently obvious, you need to apply one user research method or other to know what you’re doing. Has it ever happened to you that you were absolutely sure everyone does something the way you do, only to find out they don’t? It certainly did to me when I found out people pour their cereal in the bowl first, and follow up with milk.
On a more serious note, user experience research has taught us time and time again that people don’t necessarily use software the way developers intended them to. And the only way to solve that problem is to be user-centric, go with the flow, and make the experience easier for the user.
There is an even bigger pitfall when you haven’t even developed your product yet. In that case, conducting research helps you answer an even more important question: does anyone even need it?
I’m sure all the start-up owners who developed their product because they grew frustrated with [insert the name of a leading industry platform] were, in fact, very frustrated with the platform. But are other users frustrated with it enough to go looking for a new one and then go through the entire painful process of purchasing, migration, and onboarding? Or is that bug that stings them actually a feature for others?
These are the questions that need to be answered because they can make or break a product (and an entire company). Applying the correct research methods can help answer them.
Even though some may turn their nose at remote research methods as inferior, there are actually a lot of benefits to it. These include:
Having said that, there are some pitfalls to remote research that you should pay attention to and mitigate. These are:
Here’s the kicker: you don’t actually need to do user research – remote or onsite. That is, you don’t need to do it yourself.
Considering how involving it is, if you are developing a digital product, it might actually be better for you to outsource it to someone – like a software development agency – rather than do it yourself. Especially if you don’t have the experience.
I hope this article convinced you that you need user research to develop a successful product. And that remote user research is a valid alternative that has many benefits. Among others, these are time and cost savings, flexibility, and convenience.
This is why when people ask us if and when they should do UX research, we tell them: as early and as often possible.
Remember that if any of this seems overwhelming, you don’t have to do it yourself! There are professionals that you can turn to for help. If you want, you can always hop on a call with Gorrion, and we’ll guide you step by step through the process!
Have a project in mind?
Let’s meet - book a free consultation and we’ll get back to you within 24 hrs.