Remember when you thought the world of facemasks, lockdowns and travel restrictions wouldn’t last too long? Well, it’s more than six months later, and we are still trying to navigate through new rules, regulations and an ever-changing business and consumer environment.
During this period, we have seen businesses try to find their operational and financial footings, with many commercial and marketing activities being put on hold.
Meanwhile, your users’ preferences and behaviours continue to develop in many ways, from how they buy products, to how they navigate their social lives. And these changes have negatively affected businesses that failed to redesign their services and quickly adapt their product offerings.
This all begs the question of decision-makers - given quickly changing user needs and expectations, should we be investing in UX research during this pandemic?
In short, the answer is yes. It’s essential that you understand how your industry and users are reacting to the changes going on around them, and how you can adapt your offering to meet those needs and expectations.
Doing so will not only support your business through this crisis but set the ground for better anticipating post-pandemic user needs that will likely be dramatically different from the now distant 2019 reality.
Covid-19 Has Changed Your Users
As users adapt to the pandemic and its economic fallout, organisations must understand how they can support their customers and partners with new products, services, and messaging. For instance, far more people have started to work from home, as well as home-schooling and caring for children at home. And this is unlikely to revert to the norm post-pandemic.
The magnitude and the nature of changes may depend on geographic location and on the user. Each behaviour shift may be short-term or indefinite for related industries. Take the new interest in online shopping for example, as ecommerce is predicted to make up for 25% of retail sales over the next five years, compared to 15% in 2019.
Less visibly, perhaps, there are also major psychological shifts occurring. Experts worry that the pandemic has led to increases in depression and anxiety.
UX Research: Build Business Immunity
These shifts mean it’s imperative that organisations conduct UX research to better understand their users and unlock new opportunities that may otherwise go undetected. As your user base changes and develops, you will need to present them with updated services and messaging.
The results of your research might seek to answer questions like:
- Where are the opportunities for your organisation?
- How are they evolving?
- How do you position your products, services, and brand in the new environment?
Focus Your UX Research
The nature and universal impact of Covid-19 means that your users are likely to have been impacted in numerous ways. It’s therefore essential to properly plan and define the methods you are using to inform your UX research. As a starting point, consider these:
Behavioural Research – Are users doing different activities than they used to? Has the frequency of any activities changed?
Psychological Research – Are your users’ concerns and anxieties different now? Have their priorities changed?
Changes in User Groups – Have factors like risk tolerance, age, life stage, or living situations created new gaps in user behaviour?
Regional Research – The gravity of the changes in users’ behaviour depends on each region’s rate of infection, how the local government is responding and what restrictions are in place.
Temporal Research – How long will each of these shifts last? Will they end suddenly, fade out gradually, or be permanent?
Research for the New Reality
Identify Appropriate Tools
The safest way to conduct research right now is to do it remotely. Before initiating your research, it’s important to consider things like research inclusivity, confidentiality, honesty, accuracy of participants’ answers, whether your participants are quarantining and whether they have internet access.
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Skype and Zoom will soon provide easily accessible user-friendly screen-sharing capabilities. Combine them with tools like Figma and Miro to achieve an optimal virtual environment for focus groups and design presentations.
Virtual platforms like Hotjar, Usability Hub and Whimsical don’t require direct interaction with your users and allow you to conduct on-site surveys, heatmaps and UX recordings.
Get Around Technology Restrictions
By using these virtual tools, you are able to enhance your remote capabilities during COVID-19, while allowing your users to take part in your research at a suitable time for them. This is especially important when researching sensitive topics or seeking unbiased feedback from participants, considering they are in lockdown with other people at home.
It is best to develop testing that is compatible with desktop, smartphones, and tablets, while keeping usability testing in mind to be able to observe the user interacting with your research prototype.
Measure the Impact
When conducting UX research during these times, you should take into consideration more than ever the marginalised groups that are facing even more challenges and inequality. A need for crisis-responsive user research will be vital to support these groups of users as they withstand and recover from the repercussions of the pandemic.
Although the role of UX is more relevant than ever, researchers still need to be mindful of how to measure their impact and assess whether their work is creating a positive change in the world. Measuring the impact of your UX research can then be done by collecting both quantitative and qualitative data.
However, if your team uses benchmarking to track changes in user behaviour, be aware that the pandemic might disrupt or invalidate your metrics. So, analytics data will be particularly impacted since it captures real-life activity.
Waiting patiently to see how this pandemic unfolds is like pressing the snooze button on your iOS or Android updates. At some point your phone will stop operating at optimal levels. The same is true of your business through the Covid-19 crisis.
Adopting a crisis-response UX research practice during this pandemic is critical to keep your products relevant, while solving real problems for real people. Through adopting this approach, you will create a resilience pathway that will help both your business and your users adapt and recover from the COVID-19 crisis.