Better research with Optimal Workshop and MURAL


As technology evolves, so too does the way we do research and design. More and more businesses around the globe are allowing their employees to work remotely, helping research teams everywhere to connect with each other and their research participants. In fact, according to statistics from Gallup, 37% of workers in the United States said they have telecommuted. Even more interesting is that 58% of remote workers surveyed by TinyPulse work in an all-remote team.

So how do you do research and design remotely?

Design research is an extremely collaborative process. You need to plan what type of research you’re going to perform and how you’ll carry it out; findings need to be analyzed; ideas brainstormed, reviewed and prototyped; and then these ideas need to be tried, tested and implemented.

Fortunately, we don’t need to be in the office with the team to get all of this done.

Before any projects get started, whether it’s introducing a new product or feature, making design changes on a website, or just getting a deeper understanding of your users, qualitative user research is a solid foundation. This research method allows you to dig into what your users are thinking, and understand how whatever it is you’re creating fits into the daily lives of your users, helping you to justify any design decisions. There are two great remote research and collaboration tools that allow you to gain qualitative data and analyze your findings: Reframer from Optimal Workshop, and MURAL. Let’s discuss how you can use them together in your next project.

How to do qualitative research remotely

All truly great design starts with putting on your research hat. Whether you’re a researcher, designer, product manager, or someone else conducting usability tests or user interviews, Reframer is perfect for noting down your observations.

Using our qualitative user research tool Reframer

Reframer is a qualitative research tool that allows you to write up your research observations in real time. For example, when you’re interviewing users over Skype, or in-person as you sit together in a cafe. If you’re part of a research team, other members can view the “Live Feed”. This allows them to watch observations as they come in, making it a great asset for any research and design teams.

Steps for using qualitative user research tool Reframer

One of the tool’s best features is the ability to tag observations using hashtags on the fly and build themes to help you make sense of findings.

1. Sign up for a free account with Optimal Workshop. There are many other tools available for user research in The Optimal Workshop Suite, but today we’re just looking at Reframer. 

2. Create and name your project. This might be the name of your client, a certain feature you’re working on — it’s up to you!

3. Create your session. You can title this with the name of your participant, where the session was held and when. Whatever makes sense to you and your team. Start entering your observations. One of the tool’s best features is the ability to tag observations using hashtags on the fly and build themes to help you make sense of findings. For example, when conducting a usability testing session for a website, you might use the hashtag “create account” whenever participants were trying to create an account, or “FAQs” when participants were viewing the FAQs page. Depending on the speed of your session, you might want to save the tagging for later so you can spend more time listening to your participants. 

4. Give observations rankings. As you add observations in your session, or after your research session is done, you can add numerical priority rankings to quantify your findings. For example, when conducting a user testing session these rankings could indicate the participant’s happiness. 1 = happy, 5 = very frustrated.
You can tag research observations in Reframer with keywords5. Analyze the findings and look for patterns. Once your research session is completed and tagged, you can use the Theme Builder to create themes within your observations. By selecting certain tags, either alone or in conjunction with others, you can create and save recurring themes.

Creating themes for your user research in Reframer

Make sense of your research findings with MURAL

After you’re done building themes across your sessions in Reframer, you can download the data and begin analyzing your research with your team using MURAL.

MURAL is an online application that allows you to synthesize data and collaborate on projects with other team members — a big plus for any team that has remote workers.

By creating a mural canvas for your user research, you can make sense of your data and brainstorm solutions with your team, as well as prioritize which solutions to work on and create a better experience for your users.

  1. Create a new mural canvas inside the MURAL app. Make sure you give it the same title as your Reframer project so the names are all consistent.
  2. Start entering some of the bigger overall themes on sticky notes onto your canvas. Try to make the text on your sticky notes succinct to save space. Don’t forget to invite your team via email or shareable link.
  3. Start collaborating with your teammates to organize and synthesize your data. For great collaboration, set up a Skype session while you and your team members discuss what’s on your canvas. There’s also a Voting Session feature that gives you and the rest of your team an opportunity for consensus on certain parts of your mural canvas.
  4. Create categories in your canvas, and place your themes from Reframer within them. The categories you can create are as broad as the day is long, and it’s up to you to interpret them to fit the project you’re working on. Whether you want to use your canvas for brainstorming, product/service design, journey mapping or road mapping, there are different types of MURAL canvases you can create.


An example of using Reframer and MURAL together

As an example, at Optimal Workshop we used Reframer when we interviewed users about what features they’d like to see added to Reframer (how meta!). Once we built our themes in the Theme Builder, we used MURAL’s story mapping capability to categorize and prioritize these feature requests.

Using MURAL and Optimal Workshop's Reframer together for remote research

Tips for better remote collaboration

Working with a remote team can have its challenges. There’s always something a little more comforting about being able to speak with people in person and bounce ideas off one another. However, there are certain things you can do to make your remote collaboration that little bit easier.

  1. Have an in-person meeting. Try to meet up with your team every so often to get to know each other. It’s a great way to touch base, especially if you’ve just joined the team for the first time. Ensure everyone knows what everybody’s roles are and how they fit into the project. Talk about which timezones you’re in and come up with a way to work better with one another. Of course, sometimes remote teams are that way for a reason — occasionally it’s because people within the team are living in all corners of the globe. Instead, you can do all of this via a video call session and get to know one another that way.
  2. Be clear with communication. Whether it’s project outcomes, research questions, opinions, deadlines or tasks, make sure everyone is on the same page. Set up regular project catch-ups with your team (daily, weekly), and break down timelines into small steps. Don’t forget to provide detailed instructions so everyone knows what’s expected of them.
  3. Embrace its limitations. Working remotely means you don’t have the ability to simply walk over to a coworker’s desk, see if they’re there and talk to them. This means you’ll need to make time for more regular communication. Take away the reliance on email and use a chat system like Slack or HipChat so you know who is available and when. This also allows for real back-and-forth conversation, which you don’t always get from email!

Remote research and collaboration is still a relatively new concept, but something that more people are tuning into. It can take some time to get used to, but with a bit of patience and practice, you’ll wave goodbye to your old ways and never look back.

Published on Nov 23, 2016
Max Koh
  • Max Koh
  • Max is Optimal Workshop's UX writer/word person, resident cat whisperer and Samoyed enthusiast. Connect with her on LinkedIn:

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