Research in a Pandemic

18 Mar 20, Adam Faulkner

This is a bit of a weird time. Countries closing borders, events cancelled, daily press conferences announcing new social distancing measures and hardly any toilet paper at Woolies or Coles. It can all feel a bit overwhelming so I think the most important thing to remember is to have empathy and be kind to each other. Let’s not forget that we are all humans and after a pretty chaotic start to 2020, being kind and remembering to smile is a really good start.

We have been reflecting a lot over the past couple of weeks, as I know many of you have been as well, on what we do and how our research will be impacted during this time. The reality is that with many participants working from home it has is actually improved our ability to recruit, engage and facilitate participant research.

Depending on the types of personas or archetypes your business has, it can often be difficult to recruit the right people for your research as well as find a time that fits in with their work schedules and life. Having a large sample size of participants suddenly working from home has presented an opportunity to be able to recruit participants who are more receptive to research. They are also more receptive to taking part in research at times when they would normally be commuting to work.

It is more contextual. Often, research is conducted in artificial environments. With participants in their own environment, they are more comfortable, provide greater insights and share additional stories and artefacts that they wouldn’t share in unfamiliar surrounds.

To be clear, facilitating research in a pandemic is not about taking advantage but identifying how we can better engage with participants who are undergoing a number of changes to their work and home. It is not about exploiting vulnerabilities but being empathic and identifying ways to reduce anxiety and improve experiences.

Your research methodology should follow that of a standard research project. What is your aim, hypothesis, method, results and research conclusions? To facilitate your research a research plan is key and will ensure you are asking consistent questions across your users and to ensure validated patterns and insights. The exception to the research plan in a pandemic is the questions upfront need to address the current climate, ask how your users are feeling and be kind. This is both the right thing to do as well as helping you to develop a connection and trust discussing shared experiences.

Communication with your team facilitating the research, stakeholders and the project is vital. We use a range of tools including email and slack to communicate as well as online project management tools to ensure transparency around timelines, dependencies and deliverables.

Whilst sharpies and post-it notes have long been the symbol of a designer, we have been using collaborative online methods for synthesis of our research. Having a collaborative, remote approach to synthesis using tools such as Dovetail, means design teams are able to work closely to identify patterns. It also means tagging of insights is more tangible, actionable and useful post-synthesis when we are compiling our research findings.

It is a weird time but facilitating remote research effectively can be achieved as long as you are empathic, caring and kind. Participants are more receptive, more engaged and comfortable being interviewed in their own environment. Reducing anxiety, and improving experiences all start with research. Let’s take this moment to listen, learn, create engaging experiences and smile.

Adam Faulkner
Experience Design Director
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