Diary Study, Online Survey, User Research, Covid19

User research alternatives – how to get your UX insights during COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak poses new challenges for the field of user research. It is very difficult to conduct UX & market research as we used to do it - if not impossible - BUT (unexpectedly for many) this situation might also prove beneficial in some way – for respondents, researchers, and clients.

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Potential ways to keep doing what we do using typical market research tools

There are, however, ways to ensure that we can continue to conduct user research to inform our client’s development of products. One of them is remote moderation testing, which Korey Johnson from Bold insight - our partner company in the US - already covered in a previous article remote moderated testing, an alternative for face-to-face user research during COVID 19. Two other methods are also worth considering: online surveys and online diary studies.


Online surveys

A quantitative tool to collect user feedback in statistically reliable numbers in the context of standardized questions. Statistical analysis allows addressing a broad range of different research questions through online surveys.

Benefits in the context of COVID-19

  • Online surveys can be completed by participants in a flexible timeframe (respondents can start the survey and resume whenever convenient) and independently of their location, which lowers the bar for participation significantly.

Potential questions that can be answered (examples)

  • Which feature should be implemented in a product/service?
  • Which version of a product/service/concept is liked best?
  • What are the socio-demographics of our target group?
  • Which is the best price for a product service?


Online diary studies

Diary studies and cultural probes bring you close to your users and offer deep insights in their everyday lives. By documentation of the participant’s daily lives, diary studies allow us to gather insights on the complexity of everyday structures and recognize patterns. Diary studies are often conducted online since online diary tools allow the moderator to interact with the participants (e.g. discuss their feedback, include surveys, introduce small tasks or upload pictures).

Benefits in the context of COVID-19

  • Online diaries can be completed by participants in a flexible timeframe (respondents can log in multiple times per day) and independently of their location, which lowers the bar for participation significantly.
  • Testing the use of physical products (maybe besides medical devices and other products which would require, training and oversight, as they could potentially harm participants) via online diary studies allows to see how people interact with it. We would send the product to respondents’ homes and will be able to observe and ask them about how they use it and their opinion on it.

Potential questions that can be answered (examples)

  • What are specific or repeating patterns of users?
  • What are touchpoints with a product/service in the daily life of a user?
  • How is the product used in the long-term? Do participants develop routines?



Other things to consider which can potentially be taken advantage of

1. Some respondents are likely to have more time than usual to spend on research.

While the COVID-pandemic is a very delicate and challenging situation, every cloud has a silver lining, and for us, the quarantine means that in some situations, it may be easier to recruit respondents that are usually hard to recruit – as most of them are now at home. This is especially true for respondents that can usually not be sourced from a professional market research panel, and for which other recruitment approaches are typically used. Some of these tough-to-recruit respondents can include:

  • People working in the middle management of big production / manufacturing / retail /construction (besides food industry) companies, or other industries
  • Designers: from interface designer to interior architects
  • People working in the fashion industry
  • Consultants and coaches
  • Airline staff
  • Employed real estate agents, architects, construction managers
  • To some extent, healthcare professionals: Of course, medical professionals involved in the management and treatment of COVID-19 patients are busier than ever, but other specialties are not too impacted, which means that they can be recruited for research purposes.


2. Creative ways can be used to reach respondents during the pandemic

  • Tweak recruitment methods:While we still use dedicated professional recruitment partners to recruit and incentivize our respondents, the recruitment methods have been tweaked to reflect the current situation - many people, being at home, will surf the internet a lot, read online magazines related to their work to stay up to date, etc. This means that these channels can be used to increase the chances of finding the respondents.
  • Alternative ways to incentivize respondents: While people need pecuniary incentives these days due to short-time work, social incentives might increase their willingness to participate in research - e.g. having the possibility to donate money to an organization that provides valuable work in the fight against COVID-19, or tickets for online cultural events, like theatre plays that you watch from home.



In a nutshell!

During this challenging period, there are alternative ways to help you get the much-needed insights to inform your development efforts. We can resort to using different research methods (such as remote moderation testing, online surveys, online diaries), and take advantage of the fact that some people are at home with “free” time on their hands, and would be glad to spend it participating in research. Let’s discuss your research needs and how we can best help you fulfill them!


Jonathan Singh

Jon conducts UX studies since 2008. His main focus is medical device usability/human factors engineering, among which he has been running human factors studies (formative and summative) for all types of medical devices, but has also been on the other side, being hired as the usability engineer at clients. He has an in-depth knowledge of industry standards and regulations (e.g. FDA guidelines, AAMI HE75, IEC 62366 and EU MDR) and Usability processes. Jon also has extensive experience in digital biomarkers (sensor-based endpoints) and companion health apps. Furthermore, he's interested and experienced in automotive work. Jon co-founded uintent in July 2018 and is based in our Swiss office in Basel.

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