The essentials of international user experience research – Part 1

Here at User Vision we perform a lot of usability testing outside of the UK both in person and remotely.

As such, we have gained an array of useful hints, tips and advice on the various methods and practicalities involved.  This week I’m sharing our collective advice on choosing the right method, and coming next week, the practicalities involved when testing internationally.

(For a more in depth outline on the subject, check out our article for Creative Bloq magazine)

Choose the right method

There are four main ways to perform UX research internationally.  Deciding on the most suitable method will be down to three key factors: your goals, budget and timescales.

1. Remote research – Conferencing and screen-sharing applications allow for remote moderated usability testing from the comfort of your home with participants on the other side of the globe.

The benefit of testing with participants remotely is that you gain other insights from having the person in their natural environment using their normal computer, mobile or tablet and save on the cost of going to perform the tests overseas.

However, depending on the technical setup used you might miss the facial expressions and body language which are part of the traditional lab-based tests.

Often local aspects such as browser settings or connection speeds have a dramatic impact on the user experience which are not noticed when using a lab with the latest modern equipment.

Remote sessions also mean a high chance you’ll be working unsociable hours to accommodate your respondent’s time differences.  Recruitment is likely to be a greater challenge but we have found that with the right partners this barrier is manageable.

  • Advantages – Travel cost and time greatly reduced, insight to the real context and tech used by participants
  • Disadvantages – Less insight to body language and other subtleties, best applied for evaluation of digital products such as websites rather than contextual / ethnographic research, recruitment and technical connection challenges

2. Go abroad – Remote moderated usability testing is typically applied to websites or software, but if you need to learn about the environment, behavior and context of your users, screensharing technology is of little help.  Ethnographic research, that captures how people currently use their technology, solve problems or just generally live their life, can really only be done on the ground locally.

Expect a significant travel bill, but take heart that this is capturing information that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to capture.

  • Advantages – Captures the big picture and context of use, better data likely to be gained through the face to face approach
  • Disadvantages – Cost, time and logistics for travel are increased, as is jet-lag

3. Employ local UX consultants as partners – UX specialists local to where you are researching have several advantages, including understanding the local culture & technology landscape, easier access to recruitment and facilities and language abilities to enable better research.  We are often brought in as a local partner for agencies and designers that need customer insight.

Selecting the right partner to perform research for you is critical.  So spend the extra time needed to ensure they really meet your requirements, whether that is based on language abilities, access to target users, specific research specialism or other factor.

They will also need to be clearly briefed on the goals and methods for your research, especially if you are performing this research in several parts of the world and consistency in approach and reporting is critical.

  • Advantages – Saves travel cost and time, improved appreciation of local culture, technology and related factors, easier recruitment
  • Disadvantages – Introduces the risk of variability in research especially if many UX partners globally

4. Research through your local office – In an ideal world all UX research would be conducted by highly trained UX professionals.  However there is also reality, and if you happen to work for a multinational organisation, there is a good opportunity to engage some of your colleagues in the local office to perform some of the research, depending on its complexity.

The local team may not include someone with formal training in UX research, but there will be several advantages such as those mentioned above such as local contacts and appreciation of the culture.

Very often colleagues involved in customer insight or marketing can have the core skills and interest in the end customers that can be extended through detailed training on the UX research methods.  If they are provided with time to prepare and pilot test the sessions (this can be done and observed remotely to ensure quality) then this is often the best solution for meeting the requirements of the project.

  • Advantages – Saves travel cost and time, can capture local culture and remove language barriers
  • Disadvantages – Additional training may be required to train the team on the UX principles and methods to be applied for this specific project.  Again it introduces the risk of variability especially if UX research is carried out by colleagues trained in field offices globally


Globe of the world

All of these are valid approaches depending on your circumstance and budget. There is also another option which is not in the list since it does not really involve international testing.

Make use of local communities – There are typically many ethnic communities in our cities and if one of them happens to be the one for the region abroad that you wish to understand better, performing traditional face to face research with them can be a good first step, if the audience is representative.

Yes there is a chance that those living in your country will have ‘gone native’ and their true instincts and preferences from home may have been diluted.  But the essential aspects of the language will be retained, and in large cities accessing the ethnic group or nationality of interest to you is often worthwhile.  Testing your solution locally can provide useful results, and at the very least serves as a pilot test before using one of the methods where users abroad are involved.

In summary

Choosing the right method for you will depend on a multitude of factors highlighted above.  It’s important to evaluate the type of data you want to capture, the time allowance and the budget available to do so when making the choice between remote and in-person testing.

Next week I will be delving into the practicalities of UX testing internationally.  In the meantime, if you have any questions feel free to get in touch with any of the User Vision team.


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