A look back on 2020: The year of Corona and its impact on UX research
Like most, after the first lockdown, our team worked through the phases of grief: denial, anger, dealing with the situation, and readjustment. However, what followed, was the strongest human skill – adapting to and living with a new situation.
Luckily, the UX industry largely deals with "digital" products and services; this means that product and service development was minimally impacted in the new remote-only environment, and that the UX testing of these products was mostly able to transition to remote testing, longitudinal diary studies, or online workshops using fancy interactive collaboration tools.
However, when dealing with physical products, such as medical devices, household appliances, cars, etc., research may still require a face-to-face contact. Even in partial lockdown situations, it was still possible to run studies with one-on-one lab setups (read about the procedures we put into place to mitigate COVID risk).
What does not work (well)
Nonetheless, there are research questions that cannot be answered by these means. For example, to understand the impact on the user experience of complex, fast, and spontaneous interactions that take place in a flight operations center or hospital is best done with observation. These environments are hard to simulate or explain without context. The initial phase of understanding context of use, users, and their needs are paramount for successful product development. But, executing these studies is very challenging during lockdown situations, either for practical (COVID protocols) or ethical (infection risk) reasons.
Now this type of research needs much more lead time and planning than other projects compared to pre-Corona times. Our clients quickly learned that it makes sense to get as much face-to-face research and testing done during late spring, summer, and early fall when case numbers were lower resulting in a lower risk of transmission.
As case numbers surge again (even with a lockdown in Germany and other countries) and the vaccination process rolls out slowly, we must assume that we will have to live with these limitations and should plan accordingly. We assume that fully normal operation will not be possible before Q3, with the exception of healthcare professionals.
But in 2021, like many UX researchers, we are more prepared, more flexible, and more knowledgeable about how to continue to collect data safely and successfully despite the uncertainty of the next city or country-wide restrictions.