“How can we reach outside of our known circles to grow our research groups?”

5 min read Ashlea McKay

“Dear Optimal Workshop

Wynyard has several local key-customer relationships which we are able to leverage for research and feedback. However, being a New Zealand-based company we are wary that, while this access to local users is invaluable, our market is global. Furthermore, due to the intensive nature of work conducted by our users, they are both time-poor and under strict security and privacy constraints.

Do you have any suggestions on how to reach outside of our known circles to grow research and validation groups?”

— Natalie Eustace, UX Designer

Well, thanks for your question Natalie. I’ve had a brainstorm or two and come up with a handful of ideas to help you solve this problem.

From what I understand, Wynyard builds software that enables government and intelligence agencies to fight crime (how exciting!) And I see that you’re after some fresh ideas on how to grow those user research networks and engage people beyond your current stomping ground in New Zealand (the world is so much bigger than our backyards, indeed). It certainly makes sense that when a company as a global reach, their research groups need to be global as well. So I think a couple of great places to start might be to:

  • identify your global users
  • get creative with your testing strategies
  • find new ways to work with your local research groups.

Identify your global users (who, what, why, and the like…)

Before you can grow your research groups and reach out to people, you first need to identify who those people actually are. Are they same type of people you deal with in New Zealand? Possibly not — you need to do some research on that. So grab a few colleagues, some post-its, a whiteboard (whatever stationery floats your boat) and brainstorm answers to things like:

  • who they are, and what their job involves
  • how they use your product in the context of their job
  • what scope you have for including them in your research (permission to contact, your own time and resources, etc.)
  • what might prevent them from being able to participate in your research (privacy, time constraints, etc.).

Another idea: leverage off your existing relationships by starting with your global clients. From what I understand from your website, your clients include governments, law enforcement organizations, intelligence agencies and the banking and financial sectors.

These are all large organisations. What do large organisations have in common besides lot’s of money and huge numbers of staff? In house design capability. They might be using your software to do their job but they all have internal and external products and services and for most of them that means designers on the payroll. Some of these people might be willing to become your UX research partners-in-crime. It’s worth a shot.

Get creative with your testing strategies

User interviews are way overdone, scenario based user testing is time consuming and prone to no-shows and focus groups are — let’s face it — often just an opportunity to zone out for an hour while the 6- 10 other people whinge and moan about product XYZ. So instead of one big evaluation, try a combination of smaller research activities. A grab bag of techniques!

Ahh, the internet. Running tests online can be incredibly flexible because people can give you valuable feedback when and where it suits them. It’s great for engaging with people who are time-poor and is also kind to your travel budget!

Moderated online testing like Skype interviews and live screencasts are useful because they have all the benefits of being there in person for when you can’t be there in person. If your user has to reschedule at the last minute, it’s a heck of a lot easier if no one has to travel anywhere. It’s also a lot easier to record the session, giving you more time to talk to your user without having to worry about taking notes. Remote testing techniques like surveys, tree tests, and card sorts are perfect for when you need some quick and dirty research done at any stage of the design process. Best of all, they can be fast and fun for people to complete. People always want short, novel distractions from their work — tap into their desire to put off working on hard work stuff for 10 minutes and they’ll thank you for it.

Another idea: gather research insights as part of your client follow-up process. Do you ever just hand your client the product or service they’ve purchased and ok go away now? Not likely. You provide them with ongoing support and you check back with them to ensure the solution is actually meeting their needs and expectations — something encapsulated in post-implementation reviews (PIRs), for example. While these reviews are great for building relationships and following through on your work, it’s also a chance to do some extra research that your client will be happy to participate in (because, after all, a PIR is all about them!)

With every technique you try, help your participants to understand what you’re trying to achieve, and to convince them their input is truly valuable. The more they know what’s at stake and feel valued, the more hoots they’ll give.

Find new ways to work with your local research groups

I get the sense from your question that your local users are called upon to participate in research studies fairly often. If this is the case, people might be experiencing participation fatigue. It’s time to get people excited!

I see you’ve recently opened an R&D lab in NZ. Why don’t you invite all your local clients into the lab for an open day event? Offer tours of the facility, throw a BBQ, run design games and give them a hands on look at what it is you do. Show them what their valuable insights actually resulted in. Give them something tangible. They don’t have to stay for the whole day given that they’re time poor — just open the doors. Test ideas early in the process using creative toolkits containing things like LEGO and play doh. Instead of a focus group, hold a design cafe. It’s a focus group with food (who’s going to say no to that! Or you could host an indoor picnic and run design games with your participants to gain insights. Be bold. Be different. Make it fun, and make it new!

Best of luck Natalie!

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Ashlea McKay

Ashlea McKay is a UX researcher, writer and keynote speaker with an industrial design background. She has more than a decade of professional experience spanning both the public and private sectors. Ashlea co-founded Optimal Workshop's UX advice column in 2015 and is based in Australia.