Remote research allows you to reach a more diverse range of participants
Design has a problem — historical and still pressing — of only designing for users that are easily accessible, are able to participate, or who meet some pre-determined idea of a ‘target’ or an ‘average’ user.
This is bad for organisations, who are missing out on a huge segment of the people they’d like to reach, and it’s bad for users, who can feel shut out of the services they’d like to access.
Remote research allows you to address common diversity and inclusion challenges of in-person research, and create a better product or service as a result.
While you’re probably already making considered attempts to include a diverse range of participants, the reality is that many people are simply not able to participate in research.
Some people cannot make it in to your research facilities for an hour on a weekday for an in-person interview — not now and not pre-pandemic either. That list includes single parents and other full-time carers, who are overwhelmingly women. (It’s also likely to exclude people with mobility challenges and certain chronic illnesses.)
One of the greatest strengths of remote research is that it enables asynchronous responses, which means people can fit it in whenever it makes the most sense for them. This makes it easier to research with shift workers, night owls, and people in precarious contract work, who may not be able request time off.
Geographic and cultural diversity
Research is mostly good at including people that are nearby, with spare time, and with the means to come and go as you require them to; they’ve got to fit with your schedule and your project plan.
Planning your research to be remote by default allows you to work with and around these constraints in ways that will improve the validity and richness of your data and insights.
As an example, Paper Giant recently worked with Atlassian to conduct research with knowledge workers. Using remote research methods, we were able to speak to people in workplaces from multiple countries in North America, Europe and Australasia. This is far more representative of Atlassian’s user base than if we had only interviewed participants local to us, and helped us avoid treating Australia’s workplace culture as universal.
Remote research also allows you to speak to people who might be uncomfortable with the intensity of a one-on-one interview in unfamiliar surroundings.
For example, autistic people commonly report finding eye contact overwhelming, but no one quite makes direct eye contact on video calls anyway, so this is one less thing they have to manage.
Body language is harder to interpret over a video call, which means remote research works best when it doesn’t rely on non-verbal cues. This equalises the process for everyone.
Research shows that non-native speakers, people with auditory processing disorders and people with high anxiety “often prefer text channels so they can have more time to process messages and craft responses.”
Inclusion is a challenge as well as an opportunity when you’re using digital tools for research — such tools rely on digital literacy and digital infrastructure that people might not have. It’s worth remembering here that remote research doesn’t have to be digital. It can mean a phone call; it can mean sending something through the post.
This means you need to know who your users are and take into account any kind of access or inclusion issues they may have. For example, when Paper Giant has worked with participants with low literacy, we’ve designed comics as a way of getting people’s feedback on stuff rather than relying on words — those can be sent through the post. We’ve also used Easy English principles in documents for people with acquired brain injury.
Many people are only turning to remote research now, as a response to COVID-19. But it would be a mistake to view it as the fallback option. Remote research allows you to engage a much broader diversity of participants, leading to richer and better validated insights.
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