Conducting user interviews online

Gone are the days (at least for now) of conducting user testing face-to-face. Not only because of health concerns of COVID transmission, but also because the face masks will hinder the analysis and observations of user reactions. Fortunately, we are swimming in the sea of digital solutions. Here are a few tools for the user research process that have proved useful in our projects:

Recruiting: A big part of recruiting was always done online, shaping screeners through online surveys or calls. We may need to skip the guerilla user recruiting, but, luckily, there are many digital tools that allow for recruiting and interviewing users online (for example,,, userlytics, testingtime, and others). There are also manual tools for recruitment, such as Craigslist, Mechanical Turk, or friends & family and network. The online tools allow you to narrow down the audience using your specific criteria to target the exact user types you are looking for.

User Testing: Certainly, we’d need to capitalize on online user interviews or usability testing during the pandemic to minimize face-to-face interactions. Some of the tools listed above, in addition to having access to users, allow for online user testing with a few things to consider, such as do you want real-time feedback or the recording of it? 
– You can share your prototype with the users, who review it in their own time, while their feedback and reactions are captured on video. 
– You can schedule time with the recruited users (provided by those tools) and organize virtual calls (via Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or other preferred options). Those tools facilitate the process of scheduling and organization.
– You can, of course, manually schedule and organize sessions with participants and benefit from screen sharing and other brainstorming tools, such as listed below.

Online whiteboarding/brainstorming: The following tools blossomed during the pandemic, as never before so many people have moved their collaborative efforts online. Miro, Mural or FigmaJam provide the opportunity to share boards with users to do card-sorting exercises, put comments (via virtual sticky notes) on design prototypes, do tree testing, and others.

Examples from FigJam, Miro, and Mural

Quantitative studies: These, as well, have been majorly done online. It may be harder to do in-person surveys and collect hands-on data, but, luckily, digitalization is reaching even the far ends of the planet, with many people globally having access to mobile phones (with internet). The quantitative study options could include: surveys, card sorting exercises, tree testing (to validate hierarchical structures), five-second and first click tests to see first reactions, and others. The goal is to collect information in big numbers that will validate concepts and direction.

Case Study Example:

For one of our clients, an international organization with more than 10,000 employees, we had a challenge of collecting feedback on redesigning a major feature. Not only we had to do global remote user interviews, but we had to find a way to help people visualize how they would imagine the final product. We created a Miro board where the users could see the layout and library of items to choose from.

The online sessions were done via Zoom, with the participants sharing their screen. During the conversation, they were asked to drag elements (specific features, buttons, etc.) from the library to the layout in the order of importance for them, all the while guiding us through their thinking process. This was a mix of card sorting and wireframing with the users, which yielded to incredibly specific feedback, insightful comments, and a library of wireframes/combinations to refer to during the redesign.

An example Miro board, similar to the one used in the case study.

Not being able to do user testing in-person because of the pandemic is not an acceptable excuse anymore (or has it ever been?), given the plethora of tools and options to choose from. Not only do they aim to support user testing online and remotely, but they actually make it easier and more efficient to gather feedback and connect with our audiences. You can sit on your couch, relax, and chat away, while doing something wonderful — talking to your users.

Do you want to learn more about how to get insights from your users virtually? Send us a message at

Also, check a few tips from design on how to adapt to the changes brought by COVID-19.

5 tips on how you can reimagine and adapt your product / service during the pandemic

Adapting to the changes brought by COVID-19

We are slowly entering year 3 of the raging pandemic. A few of us will disagree that it has substantially altered our way of life in many ways. Many experts believe that there is no going back – the changes are here to stay. These times have been particularly turbulent for companies, organizations, businesses, who have had to adapt on the fly, digitalize, sanitize, and re-invent their image. The following are a few tips from experience design that can greatly help companies in this challenge.

  1. Understand and empathize with your audience – what has changed?

    More than ever, it is important for us to put ourselves in the shoes of our users. Even if we know our audiences well, we also need to know and empathize with their current situation and changes that it may have brought. Consider:
    Socio-economic situation: Has COVID-19 impacted their jobs and livelihood or family situation?
    Daily rituals: Many people nowadays work from home, homeschool their kids, do shopping online, exercise at home, order in or pick up food instead of going out, and others. How may have this altered their experience of using your product or service?
    Psychological factors: The pandemic has created barriers in our social interactions – people are scared in public, keep distance, avoid physical contact or touching objects in public spaces. They may feel uncomfortable, alone, even depressed, have health concerns or fears of being quarantined, especially when traveling. How can you adapt your solution to empower people, connect them, considering all the safety and comfort?

  2. Talk to your users

    There is no better way to improve your product/service than to understand how your users feel about it. There are many ways you can get insights from your audience without having to go through complicated design processes. Simply, identify your target user types and talk to them, ask how they feel about your offering, what they would like changed, and how this experience has been affected by the pandemic. Don’t forget:
    – Be open minded and welcome feedback/criticism: this will only make your product better.
    – Ask open questions to get in-depth answers and always follow up with “why.”
    – Be courteous and welcoming, make the users feel comfortable.
    – Don’t only listen to their answers, but also observe their actions: sometimes the users say they are happy, while their actions show their confusion.
    – Come up with actionable items for yourself after the discussions: what do you want changed/updated?
    – Don’t forget to wear a mask and, even better, do the conversations remotely. 

  3. Consider the new constraints

    Distancing factor: A lot of restaurants and public spaces needed to account for creating space between people to reduce transmission. Consider how you can abide by this constraint, while making people feel socially inclusive, safe, and comfortable (e.g. adding protection screens in between in restaurants, adding spaced out queue lines, etc.). 
    Regulations: The current COVID-19-related regulations change constantly, affecting social gatherings, outings, and travel options. How do these regulations affect your users’ experience? What are the ways to make them feel included and protected in case of changes (e.g. free cancellation and refund options, opportunities to reschedule, etc.)?

  4.  Consider touchless interactions

    We need to account for one of the main sources of virus transmission when touching objects and interfaces. Consider how you can add a touchless element to your product or service (e.g. touch-free soap or sanitizer dispensers, voice-command driven kiosks or elevators, etc.). 

  5. Adapt to virtual and digital

    Many of us, nowadays, work from home, which by itself creates a ripple effect on many industries: food deliveries, lunch restaurants, transport/commuting options, internet providers, digital tools, even clothing stores (who dresses up for online calls?!). As such, most of the businesses need to adapt to digital to ensure they can continue supporting their customers. It is critical to have an online presence, adapt to catering orders digitally, and even consider digitalizing non-digital interactions, such as dating or birthday parties.

Celebrating birthday parties online via Zoom or other means

Changing and adapting our work and approach may seem a big challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. The tips outlined above are not only helpful in order to adjust to the changes that have come about after the COVID-19 outbreak, but these are good initiatives to consider in any scenario. User-centricity – focusing on what our users actually want and need – can only improve our offering and increase user satisfaction; and digitalization nowadays is a must, keeping up with the times. Following the tips and steps above will give you a good start, but if you ever need a hand in understanding your audience, YU is here to help you.

One of the Oscar nominees in 2018, the movie “the Darkest Hour,” describes the days when Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in the midst of Germany’s attacks on Europe. You may wonder what does a film about 1940 England have to do with user experience and talking to users.

There was an episode in the film (spoiler alert!), where Churchill, under the heavy burden of decisions he had to make for his country and, consequently, for the world, takes the advice of his king and decides to talk to his people. The decision he was struggling with was whether to yield and make an agreement with conquering Germany or to stand up and fight. So, he hopped out of his car in the middle of traffic and descended to the London Underground. This was the first time he was taking public transportation. He sat down in one of the Underground cars, while all the people stared at him in surprise and awe.

He turned to them and asked how they felt about the current situation; he asked, if they had a choice between making a deal with Germany or fighting, what would they choose. The commuters exclaimed in the support of their country with courage and patriotism to never yield to the German aggression. Inspired by the “feedback” he got, Winston wrote down the names of the “participants” on the back of the box of matches and quoted them during his speech to the parliament.

Now, this story is not really true. According to the screenwriter of the film, Anthony McCarten, this episode was constructed by many stories of Churchill from time to time “going AWOL” and mingling with public, during his years of prime ministership, to get their opinions and the true spirit of the people he was appointed to govern (link).

Whether this episode is based on true facts or not, it is an excellent example of how important it is to touch base with reality and understand what the real people or users feel and want. As usability and experience design experts, we very often end up in continuous debates and endless convincing arguments about the importance of validating the products or services we shape. Watching this episode of the film made me think what a vivid demonstration it is of our efforts. If Winston Churchill, one of the most decisive and powerful people in the history, could allow the opinions of ordinary people to influence his decisions, then how can we not do so when it comes to call-to-action buttons, messaging tag-lines, or touchpoint interactions. Is the decision of a political stand during World War II less of an important one than whether the app we create brings any value to people or the website has simple language for communication?

We, as experience designers, often struggle with companies or management that claim to be user-centric, but don’t actually dedicate time or budget to proper validation and usability testing. The key is to remember that we are the advocates for shaping products or services for people, and, as such, we have quite a bit of power. So, we shouldn’t yield, but focus on the goal of creating a simpler world, with useful, needed, and accessible products, through design.

Image credits:

Usability testing by itself is not an easy task. As a usability expert and a designer, you spend a lot of time to understand the challenge, create hypotheses, and prepare for the study. And during the study, you try to make the participants feel comfortable and at ease, while, in reality, you are trying to get into their deep thoughts and emotions to understand what they really feel about a certain project or a process. It is important to understand the people, their mentality, and mindset in order to create a comfortable setting and get the most valuable outcomes. 

So, conducting a usability test in a different country, with participants from different cultural, educational, and even linguistic backgrounds, can turn out to be even more challenging, as it includes much more research into cultural traits, nuances, and etiquette. It also includes some extra steps of preparation. The following tips will guide you through preparing for and conducting a usability test in an international setting, given you have the usability testing basics covered.

1 – Initial Research

The first step (as when approaching any project) is research. It is important to understand the culture of the country where you are planning to conduct a usability test: what is the official language; what are the main cultural traits and general mindset, etc. If you are doing a test for a website, for example, you may want to look into the existing norms in that country, as it will give clarity to the participants’ responses.

Example: Once, our team conducted a usability study for a website in South Korea. The website was quite simple and minimalistic – nothing unusual for western cultures. However, for Koreans it was “foreign,” “unfamiliar,” and even “Google-like,” given that in Korea they don’t use Google but instead Naver, which covers their search, maps, community forums, etc. They are mostly used to websites with a lot of text, images, and information. Knowing this allowed us to understand better why we received such feedback.

2 – Finding a facilitator

It is generally a good idea to find a supporting party from the host country. If you work in an international company, collaborate with the local teams (e.g. market research, experience design), if applicable. 

Alternatively, find a market research agency that may help with selecting participants, providing the space, an interpreter, and general facilitation. In addition, having someone the participants can related to, can help to make the interaction smoother.

Example: In one research that our team had to conduct in Poland, a local market research agency supported us by providing the proper space for usability testing (with a double-sided mirror), selecting the participants using our criteria and screener, taking care of the legal paperwork that the participants had to sign, as well as providing a very experienced interpreter. This collaboration greatly facilitated our experience.

3 – Selecting participants

Screener: When designing a screener, one important thing to keep in mind is the cultural trait of providing feedback. In some cultures, people are more submissive and not used to sharing their opinions; so, the usability testing may be more challenging, as their responses will generally be positive or neutral but without constructive feedback. So, in your screener, ask questions that require feedback as an answer.

Another thing to consider is the language. At times, the participants may exaggerate their language skills, if English, say, is required. In this case, test their language skills during the screening process.

Participant selection: Schedule interviews way in advance, as the scheduling will be challenging on distance. Here as well, the local facilitator can greatly help. Schedule extra participants in case of no-shows.

4 – Drafting a discussion and/or observation guide

Draft a discussion guide and make sure to run it by someone familiar with the host country customs.

I don’t believe you need a translation of the guide, unless some of your colleagues in the host country may need that. Make sure to have extra copies of the guide with you to give to the observers and, most, importantly, to the interpreter to review before the interviews.

5 – Selecting an Interpreter

A good interpreter will make the sessions go smoothly and be extremely fruitful; so, from my perspective, it is worth the time and investment to find a good one.

The interpreters can translate the conversation consecutively or simultaneously. In the former, they wait for the participant to provide feedback and translate afterwards; in the latter, they whisper the translation into your ear, as the participant provides feedback. In my experience, the simultaneous translation was better, as it didn’t slow down the conversation, and I was able to follow the participants’ facial and gestural expression along with their feedback.

It is important to make sure the interpreter translates the conversation fully without paraphrasing.

6 – Selecting the Space

You must either find a room to set up face-to-face usability tests or, in case of doing a contextual inquiry, set up the conversations in the participants’ proper environments. In case of the latter, make sure to structure the study in such a way that the participants properly dedicate time to the study and enough space for the moderator and all the observers.

It’s quite a big endeavour to conduct usability testing internationally. However, it is also very rewarding, since not only you gather the essential feedback, but you also open up your perspective to cultural differences that you can always bring into your designs and solutions. Being culturally open, aware, and thoroughly prepared will guarantee that your study will go smoothly with very fruitful outcomes. I would love to hear about your experience of dealing with cultural differences, and how has that affected your perspective as a designer. Leave your comments below.