UX Research in Times of a Pandemic

The global pandemic has changed users’ needs and behaviors, with many pain points intensified to make what was once manageable pre-COVID, more challenging for User Experience (UX) researchers and the way they work to achieve user-friendly journeys and experiences.

User experience research has a personal touch, starting from user interviews where the researcher does not only need to ask delicate and complex questions, but observe and listen carefully. Normally, a user interview takes place face-to-face, so the researcher can read and understand the user’s feelings, facial reactions, way of thinking and behavior.

A researcher usually starts with asking the user about their typical habits,
but right now, ‘typicality’ is just out of the question.

The human facial reaction conveys lots of emotions and expressions that assist the researcher in developing a deeper understanding of the user’s interactions during the session. As a result, running an interview with a user wearing a face mask makes the process much less efficient for numerous reasons such as the lack of visibility of facial reactions, dampened sound and inability to see the user’s lips when they are speaking; all of which make the words less distinct and more difficult to understand.

Unfortunately, ‘mask-free’ in-person meetings are not an option right now, and we cannot expect them to be any time soon. For this sake, many user experience researchers have shifted to remote research methods. Remote research has a lot to offer, with many high-end tools and uncountable features that have been designed and were already in use before the pandemic, but these tools come with a substantial price – monetarily and professionally.

Professionally, for some products, in-person research and testing are irreplaceable. These products include ones that rely heavily on observing users in their natural environment or contain physical hardware. There are also limited substitutes for in-person moderated testing, such as the new challenges of conducting remote testing with the elderly.

The digital shift has been more painful for some UX teams than others.

Remote research and testing are powerful and necessary for businesses across the board. It provides researchers with the ability to recruit a wider range of participants, with more flexible schedules for research sessions. And so, for some researchers, the current remote approach is more efficient and beneficial than the traditional approach pre-pandemic.

Whereas for others, it was less about the technical challenges and more about the lack of human connection that so many researchers value in their work.

Finally, there is no doubt that new considerations, tools and methodologies have arisen in the UX research scope as a result of the pandemic. Today, UX teams still need to come up with alternative strategies, be open to change, and adapt or introduce new resources – would it be a transparent mask? Plexiglass barriers? We do not yet know...

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