Episodes Recorded

Ep.2 Presence (Jun 18 2020)

As the world slowly reopens, how soon is too soon to start doing in-person research? What alternatives do we have?

Stickynotes episode 2, June 18 2020

Can’t see the video? It’s also on LinkedIn and YouTube.

Details from this session

As the world slowly reopens, how soon is too soon to start doing in-person research? What alternatives do we have?

We talked about some precautions for running in-person usability tests, and touched on options for remote testing.

Remote usability testing, even if it’s a moderated session, has several issues (not related to the current pandemic) including:

  • Ensuring participants have a suitable setup and can work with the remote software.
  • Non-verbal cues such as body-language and facial expressions.
  • Limited study time (probably ~30 minutes) compared to an in-person session
  • For non-moderated sessions, a lack of “why”-type observations to go along with the “what” data you receive.

But there are some potential advantages:

  • You might get to see the context of use of the software – in other words, you get to see where people actually do their work or perform the task you care about.
  • It *could* make your recruiting more inclusive, allowing people who would find it difficult to attend an in-person session to participate (although, for instance screen reader and other assistive software might conflict with observation software).
  • You aren’t limited to certain geographies, so it may be easier to recruit for unusual study requirements.

More details…

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This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity, but it probably still contains a bunch of errors!

Show the transcript…

AS: Hello everyone so nice to see you today! Welcome to sticky notes chat episode 2
I’m Amanda Stockwell and I’m here with Chris Nodder and Corey Lebson and we are three user experience research consultants talking about getting stuff done. We were so pleasantly surprised to have so many of you tune in last week.

We just reached about 1,500 views which is awesome. We’re so glad that you’ve joined us so I’m so glad in fact that we’ve decided to turn this little chat into a weekly endeavor so so we’ll
ask this again throughout but if you have particular questions or requests of
topics for us to cover in the future please do let us know.

Today we are going to be talking about presence. A hot topic right now as things (at least in the US) have started to be open a bit. When can we start doing research in person and what else could we be doing instead.

So I know that actually all of us have lots of opinions about this but I know that Cory has a lot of thoughts in particular about conducting research in person so Cory what do you think? What do
you have planned for the next little bit?

CL: Well so I mean I want to frame this in context a little bit. You know when when everyone started working from home I started working from home too. You know, what, since since early March and it was all good. Everything, you know, everything going smoothly. But then
some projects dropped, some projects came, it was chaos as might be expected
but then then come July I see that I had no more remote options that was it!

So I had to think about it. Okay do I go in person do I not do it in person? And what do I do? And I decide, you know what? I want to work. And to work, that’s what it will take. I mean it might not be the same as a job where you definitely always have to work in person but there is aspects to it – and there are clients that do, so I made the choice to start working in person again, come mid-July so about a month from now.

AS: Yeah, Chris, how do you feel about that?

CN: So you know I think I’d actually be fine if I could control the environment where I would be doing the in-person studies. For me it would be the travel to those locations where I was doing the in-person studies.

I mean, am I a control freak? Maybe but I think the part which feels most concerning to me is being in the transit locations to get to wherever the work is.

Once I’m there I can work with a client to make sure we’ve got a good environment I can be super clear with checklists and everything about what we’re going to clean off between sessions, how we’re going to bring people in a safe way, how we’re gonna keep distances in a safe way, all that kind of stuff is always hard in a place where you’ve got to take people in and take people out and they have got to wait in reception areas…but yeah you can get around that. I mean everyone is as people reopen. That’s kind of happening.

But for me the big thing is the travel side of it. If I could run stuff locally in my small town I live in, okay! But most of the people who are representative of the audiences that my clients have,
they don’t live here so that’s not really a possibility.

AS: Cory, is there anything that is like particularly concerning or that you that you’re doing really differently?

CL: Well so first of all it hasn’t happened yet. I’m still trying to figure it out but I will say also that yes to Chris’s point it does involve travel you know and like Chris while you know I live in a populated area and there is work here, the work that I had available in July is not here where I live in Maryland in the DC area and involves travel. Each leg (it’s back-to-back projects)
involves multiple flights so in fact I’ll be on let’s see, two, four, six, about eight different flights you know as I do these two trips and involves two, four you know five airports, five different airports. You know, I’m renting a car when I can, you know, rather than the Uber, Lyft kind of option but yeah I mean it’s a real concern.

CN: I’m not trying to freak you out Corey

CL: It’s certainly a real concern you know thinking thinking you know what should I do
what you know what’s the right thing to do?

Certainly I you know I want to follow the law, whatever that might be. I want to follow the norms and norms are different in different places. Because I mean I’m used to the big city norms which are which are perhaps you know more on the rigorous on the rigorous side of what social distancing means. Mask wearing that kind of stuff. Yeah and in the amount of mask wearing, you know, what you have to do but also, you know, in the smaller cities things are different I’m not talking about like just disobeying the rules but cases are lower. I mean there’s a lot less in some in some small cities and then you can look at all statistics and kind of see that.

CN: I’ve been looking at the statistics; I’m like hmmm. Yeah!

CL: It is different. I mean trying to understand that, it’s just like UX you know, you try to understand the norms of an audience group. You trying to understand the norms of a location.

CN: Yeah I mean you can’t do good research if you’re the one who looks different. Yeah well no that’s not true I think you can but it’s harder, right?

CL: Yeah I was gonna say it’s more that it’s harder for people I feel like to kind of open up to you, to feel comfortable with you, if you’re not following the same kind of norms, situational norms that they are.

AS: It’s very interesting I’ve been having lots of conversations, I live in North Carolina, my parents live in Maine which is a very popular summer vacation destination but they live on an island. There is not a hospital there is not like resources or infrastructure they can’t get grocery deliveries there’s one grocery store on an entire peninsula and so I have a really interesting view of talking to them and seeing what it’s like for them.

They were fairly isolated and hadn’t had a lot of cases but as people are starting to arrive they are observing how different people are following those norms and how that’s how that’s
working for them it’s it’s quite something!

CN: Did that, has that informed you at all, Amanda, about what you’re thinking about doing with in-person research?

AS: To some degree. The other thing is that this is one of those things where my professional best interests and my personal best interest don’t necessarily align. So we’ve we’ve talked a little bit before about being a whole person and understand the whole context so um I had heard surgery as a kid and it’s something that I have to you know I’m not actively sick but it’s something I have to pay attention to know and as I’m sort of reading and watching and
trying not to freak out about things but seeing that many of after-effects of COVID include cardiovascular issues I am not willing personally to put myself in a position that professionally would be better for me. I was actually supposed to go on some of those trips with Cory.

Right! Yeah and at the beginning like before all of this we were quite excited or least I was quite excited about some of our adventures to new places we hadn’t been yet.

CN: That’s always a fun part of UX, right? It’s always oh I get to go I mean you do get to see some of the weirdest parts of those places like the inside of conference rooms at all these places, but…

AS: Turns out the inside of business park looks pretty much the same whether you’re in Pittsburgh or Poland but yeah.

Kind of for me it was much less a business decision and much more my personal decision that I you know and I’m not trying to be alarmist I don’t know what would happen but I’ve worked very hard to be healthy and I don’t particularly want to put myself in that position but it’s been a tough one for me because I you know I really value my business and I really like doing that kind of work so it’s a weird it’s a weird spot for me to be in, yeah.

CL: Yeah I mean I think it’s, it’s kind of you know and what I’m thinking about is the number one is the danger to self you know, is does that matter?

CN: What do you mean does that matter?

CL: What is the real risk you know, should I really be concerned about my personal health you know no health risk, and the answer is “I don’t know.”

You know I’m gonna make a decision, but I don’t have a hard reason not to you know. Certainly I don’t have a medical reason not to, I’m young enough you know it’s all good but then there’s also that I might cause harm to somebody else so so okay so I could say I’m good you know
wear my mask you know if you do everything but I don’t want to I don’t want to be responsible for harming anybody else either. You know while I don’t think I have it, but people are asymptomatic so how I know at any given time?

CN: And there’s there’s a couple of different sets of people you could harm one is the clients, one is the participants, one is your family when you come back, yeah?

CL: Yeah I mean and family to some extent you know obviously it’s talking with family you know it’s saying what you’re comfortable but again there’s no real risk short of like you know going to the parent generation kind of thing. But also yeah clients, although clients again it seems a little more informed decision like they’re you know they are the ones saying we want this in person.

CN: So it’s their fault!

CL: Obviously there’s still risk from that decision assuming again you know that I don’t want clients that are high risk groups either, you know, but then there’s also participants in the study and that’s actually my biggest concern is is you know you don’t want to be responsible for a participant in the study coming and, not being the client, being paid a generous incentive I mean not not for COVID, just because it’s always good to pay a generous incentive but yeah so so you know it really it’s um you know it’s really kind of this this balance of safety and what that means.

CN: There’s one cost you didn’t, one risk you didn’t mention that’s the opportunity cost if you get sick from doing this then does that mean potentially you couldn’t do another piece of work because you’re sick over the time you would have been doing that piece of work?

CL: There’s a lot of of considerations around that too I mean one is if you get sick when you’re there what’s the cost what’s the the actual cost to your business, assuming your business tab is running and you are quarantined in random place for for two weeks let’s say, not even that serious you know.

AS: Not even quarantine. What if you’re really sick?

CL: Right well if you are really sick I figure you go to the hospital like if you are sick enough to go to the hospital then you’re in the hospital and this is all domestic by the way, that I’m talking about, because I actually am in the process of cancelling an international trip in the fall for some research because at least you know I’m heading towards that direction obviously you know like I’m talking about the client that kind of thing but that’s that’s actually in Europe and then I don’t have health insurance in Europe. I mean, I have like a yearly travel insurance plan like a very low grade whatever, but you know oh by the way COVID you know it’s a pandemic, … not so covered! I don’t think that’s how that’s supposed to work!

When I’m talking about this travel I’m really talking about well you know I’m really talking about the domestic travel where health insurance is national I mean most health insurance I think ACA plans are national these days I mean you might not have your doctors but I mean I’m talking about PPOs and kind of thing. There’s a network there’s…

CN: For anybody outside the US you’re wondering what the hell we’re talking about.

CL: Yeah it’s it’s complex

When especially you’re self-employed and you’re looking for something that’s marginally affordable and also gives you some coverage in the places where you are likely to be.

AS: All right so Chris I heard you say before we went live with everybody else you said that you had a couple of opportunities to do some travel but you said no. Tell me a little bit about that.

CN: Well I haven’t completely said no yet but I’m investigating whether I can do this remotely because I don’t think… I’m not ready to travel. I’m definitely not ready to travel internationally so yeah it’s like it’s a bit worrying as to whether… I’ve run remote studies before, and I’ve run remote training before and it works but it’s is not the same.

And what the pieces of work that I’m looking at are actually, there’s more training although there would be some it is a workshop style one so there’d be some observational work involved in that training as well so it’s kind of important to have that… there’d still be people being recruited there would still be possibly site visits or interviews to do to do as part of this so in-person research and I would want to be there for that because I’d be coaching people through the first times they’ve been running these interviews so I wouldn’t want them to go and cause any problems. I’d want to be there to kind of step in if they started doing bad things.

But doing that at a distance? That’s really difficult. So I don’t know that it’s even fair to the client to say oh yeah sure we can do this remotely if I wasn’t convinced that I could actually give them the level of quality that I’d expect to be able to give them as part of this work so yeah it might be that I say sure we can do it remotely here’s the caveats, or it might be I say you know you really should find somebody local to you even though they’re not quite as awesome as I am, obviously. Or somebody who’s prepared to travel across and do the work with you.

These are also locations where I know if I went there when I came back to the States I’d have
to be in quarantine for 14 days probably in fact I’m not even sure there are necessarily it would be a pretty difficult trip to get there because there wouldn’t be any flights directly there I’d have to go through some other countries to get to those locations so yeah. It’s also countries where I don’t even know what the stats are, or whether the stats are believable for what infection rates and things are in those countries so yeah it’s a hard one and it’s something I’m working
through right now but I think I’m pretty convinced I’m not going to be doing it in person but then what’s the alternatives?

AS: Yeah so what are you both hearing as it sounds like Chris that you suggested a remote
alternative and Cory I know that you’ve suggested remote alternatives a couple of times so what are you both hearing pros and cons and just kind of like what what’s your gut check on how everybody feels about all this stuff?

CL: Well so first of all is this frame that I have, that we all have, is from the client and person working for the client and not in-house in this frame but you know it certainly it’s a discussion with the client. Some clients said you know what it makes sense. Particularly the big city clients where they are also experiencing the same kind of you know more rigorous safety protocols perhaps and they say you know what it makes sense we want to go remote.

Okay I’m fine you know. I will say sharing mobile screens just sucks you know you mean the devices that when you want to research and you’re sharing a mobile screen even the savviest of users there is no greatmethod for doing that real-time.

AS: Or if there is somebody please put it in the chat cuz I don’t know what it is either!

CL: Yeah and then there’s also like different audience groups you know it’s wonderful when everyone is a tech savvy you know a tech-savvy person and they’re all kind oh yeah you know I
use all my five different devices and yeah but sometimes your audience group for research is not so tech savvy and when you can bring them in then you can control the situation a little more and you know and really you know I’ve struggled with that – I did a study where the best we could do you know was see the guy’s forehead you know like that on the webcam because he didn’t even understand how I hope he had an expressive forehead! He did! Just occasionally I saw the eyes. But you worry about masks blocking the face, you know, what about the webcam?

But you know it’s definitely there are reasons where in-person is good and also just it’s good! I mean it’s good to have an emotional connection to look someone in the eye you know even now when when we’re looking at you the viewer you know I’d look like this to look at my webcam and I’m not. I’m looking like an inch two inches below my webcam just to have to look at the picture! So you know to have that connection also helps you gather information and it matters!

CN: You can see somebody’s whole body and somebody’s body language can be I mean just even you can’t you can’t even see whether I’m leaning back leaning forwards but if somebody’s … that can be an indicator of so many things when you’re working with people

AS: Yeah and it totally depends what you’re trying to do too so I think maybe one of the things that we should talk about is you know sort of what are the things that lend themselves “better” I guess is the word to remote?

I don’t think and correct me if I’m wrong I don’t think that any of us would argue that we’re never going to do in-person research again and that there’s no value in it. Does anybody want to take that stance?

CN: Ummm, I could do just for the sake of argument. No I believe it. I think I think in-person is the way to go when you can.

AS: Yeah, for sure. So let’s talk then a little bit about like what are the things that are you sort of better suited to doing remotely and are there any things that you found that work particularly well or that don’t work particularly well and you’d suggest that people kind of avoid remotely if they can

CL: well so what I mean so first of all what works best is when truly your data point and we’re talking about real time research. Real time At least that’s what I exclusively do is real time But basically when either it’s a conversation – still with video if you can video certainly better than than no video – but then number two is if it’s if it’s something is being shared it’s a screen it’s a computer screen and that’s it you know that’s the only thing that I found you can reliably share even with a little bit less tech-savvy audience and you know in terms of the audience if the audience is not a tech-savvy group of people and is not anticipated to be a tech-savvy group of people it is harder

So focus on those audiences that are more tech savvy and what attributes go with that you know owning the technology, using the technology frequently, comfort on the technology, you know that it’s those kinds of people that lend themselves to this kind of remote research, you know when possible.

CN: Yeah it’s interesting. My mother-in-law thinks she’s awesome on the computer.

AS: What do you think?

CN: We’ve had some interesting support calls! So I mean that’s that’s the thing, right? Support calls. You have to budget time during remote remote moderated research you have to budget time for support for getting somebody up and running before you can actually do the study you want to do and and and that I mean I found that getting 45 to an hour 45 minutes to an hour out of somebody in a remote moderated session is maximum.

And if you’re budgeting 15 minutes of that to make sure that you can see them on the webcam they can see you they can hear you, you are down to 30 minutes maybe even 25 minutes of actual stuff

Oh cuz you’ve also got to – I mean sure you sent them the packet beforehand of all the consent forms and stuff they’re supposed to sign but they can’t sign a PDF and send it back to you because even if – I mean how many people can do that? yeah probably the people watching this because hey look you’re watching a livestream webcast so you’re relatively savvy but how many people in real life can actually digitally sign a PDF? I don’t know.

CL: Yeah, for sure. Definitely just I’ve just done three back-to-back remote usability tests and you know, there’s clunk. There’s clunk in in every aspect. These were not intended to be … none of these were intended to be remote initially they all went remote versus you know perhaps kind of knowing remote would make sense from the outset. It’s just clunk.

And getting started I mean normally when I use an external recruiter you know I would say okay you know do a quick a quick tech check – and actually I just see Lauren’s question there about that – I do a quick technology check you know by going to the website making sure that they can making sure that they can connect you know and that’s all fine and good

But now I’m saying “recruiter can you give me their phone number?” I know that’s PII I know that you know personally identifying information I know you don’t want to give me that as an external recruiter from your database but I need it because I keep calling them. I’m like where are you? “Oh wow it started loading and it didn’t load and now I’m stuck I figured I would just wait” And over and over again

AS: Yes well and I will say even, so I did (not too long ago) a study with small business owners who were MSPs. Very tech savvy people but with so many people working from home and with so many tools having constant updates, even the most tech savvy people … stuff happens you know like I don’t think it’s just about the tech savviness of the people which by the way is usually self-reported and to Chris’s point, people’s perception of what is tech savvy…

CN: I’m going to be in so much trouble now!

AS: Well, no. It’s not a bad thing but it is true like my dad is tech savvy considering that he was a commercial fisherman for a very long time but is he tech savvy compared to me his kid who grew up with a computer and went to engineering school? No.

Thankfully he won’t watch this but I’ll tell him about it. It’s okay, I love you dad!

But I think it’s one of the things even at the tech savviness there’s still gonna be like problems sometimes and even if you’re working with you know technology platforms or recruiting partners or anything else that have done tech checks for you? I mean let’s be honest how many of you have had a meeting between other very tech-savvy people where the first 5-10 minutes is “Can you hear me?” “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” “No, wait, wait, let me try plugging this in” “Wait, wait, no, no,”

CN: Yeah! So I mean definitely if I was giving people tips on what I found to work is so with often we talk about specialist tools to do this kind of stuff with. The ones I found that work the best with the least amount of support is ones where no download is needed. If you can do a thing which is entirely accessed from a URL without needing to download onto somebody’s computer, A) there’ll be less support issues and it’s more likely to just work B) I feel better doing that because I don’t want to have to … I don’t want to be the person who touched somebody else’s computer and installed that thing which they now blame for the fact that their computer isn’t working right.

CL: Yes, but I’ll throw out one counterpoint. They close the browser. When you’re sharing a screen and it’s all in the browser and they close the browser…. You’re screwed

CN: And I mean I’ve got I don’t how many tabs I’ve got open now but there are people who aren’t used to tabbed browsing and if you’re actually asking them to do a browser task yeah you could be screwed if the thing that they’re doing is in the browser and not in the window they’re not

CL: Yeah it can get it can get nasty so there’s definitely times where that doesn’t work but I found that I have the least definitely is a good counterpoint but I have the least support issues when that is the case yeah

CN: I don’t know what else to suggest in terms of doing this because I do think that moderated – to be clear there’s two things right? There’s moderated sessions and there’s unmoderated sessions yeah

Unmoderated is something like, at its simplest you send a survey out to somebody they fill it in and you get it back. Nobody’s watching them fill in the survey and it just happens. it comes back to you. You can also do the same kind of thing with card sorts or reverse sorts. You can even do that kind of thing with usability tests. You can have somebody do a usability test and then you watch the results of that.

One of the problems with that is you’re getting a lot of “What” data but you’re not really getting the “Why” data. You’re not getting their commentary, you’re not getting their explanations as to why they did things you’re not seeing their body language and their expressions. Sometimes you are, not always.

Which is why doing in person also gives you that extra richness that I think… Would you would you two agree you’d rather do an in-person one, well no, a moderated one, over an unmoderated one?

AS: I think it depends what your goals are too though. I’ve had some situations where, depending on what we were, I was working on, the goals were different so I hesitate to say yes, always moderated, because… Because it depends what you’re trying to do and who they’re trying to reach like if I needed to talk to you know truck drivers on the overnight shift I might prefer to have that to figure out a way to do that unmoderated or like right now I’m working on a diary study of something where we need people to give us information in the context within which they are interacting with the product that we’re working on so I would I’m going to go back to my forever answer which is “It depends!”

CL: My whole business model is based on high-touch you know basically it’s like if you want me then I am going to be kind of present which of course makes it even worse for me where, you know, where I’m not present.

CN: Now you’re questioning the wisdom of that!

CL: But honestly it’s not.. You know why did I go into freelancing in the first place? It’s because I want to do what I wanted to do. The last time I did an unmoderated study was… So I’ve been I’ve been a freelancer for what is it, eleven years ago? My last unmoderated study was eleven years ago! You know it I haven’t done any!

AS: If you get any, send them my way!

CL: You know it’s not that I can’t, but when my business model was based on you hire me because you want me to do stuff actively and and if if they don’t – no one comes to me even says hey do you want to do you want to do an unmoderated study because I don’t advertise any of those I don’t tell anybody I want to do those.

And every now and again I’ve been a quant survey of some kind or other, but but you know when when needed or as part of a qualitative project or whatever but you know I found my my joy in life you know my happiness my happy place and so so it’s all I want to do you know it’s all I … is the moderated you know and OK I’m willing to go remote obviously, I’ve had to and that’s that, but in-person is again the happy place! It’s the happy place to look people in the eye when you talk to them.

AS: Yeah well that’s just made me think of a question which I’m gonna spring on the two of you. We have not previously discussed this so get ready! It’s that — and I’ve been hearing I’ve been getting this question a lot, it’s just like — how if at all do you anticipate this whole pandemic and everything that’s going on changing your business and work practices in the future? Do you think that you know there will be some point at which you go back to how it was before? Do you think there will be a new normal? Can you bear to even guess?

CL: So my answer to that is basically one month from now I expect to go back to more or less how it was before with modifications. That is, you know, I did in-person research generally one-on-one, the occasional focus group or group discussion but generally one-on-one research.

I’m not comfortable doing a focus group or some kind of group discussion right now. Obviously I think that that’s a million times more complexity. But one-on-one research you know as is but what are the modifications? You know does a mask need to be worn indoors or can you socially distance ten feet apart because you could do that. You can put two tables ten feet apart but what’s the norms and the expectations. What are participants in any area coming in with? And what are their expectations coming in?

I’ve already said to the client you know we need Clorox wipes and we need hand sanitizer. We are not sponsored by Clorox by the way either

CN: Clorox nor 3m for post-it notes

CL: And by the way a box of pens Instead of sanitizing the pens, let’s just have a new one, give them all a you know a Bic pen, “Sponsored by…” No, just kidding!

But you know just just do that you know. Those are modifications that we need to think through. Oh, and screeners too. I’m gonna have a whole discussion with the client, can you ask about underlying health issues on a screener? And the answer is we don’t know. Like because is that is that restricted health information? HIPPA?

Yeah you can certainly ask about last two weeks of symptoms because at least everyone’s doing that now, so it seems okay to ask that a screener, in the consent form, “I have not had symptoms in two weeks”, and we say I mean everybody asks that you know. You can do a temperature check. But does that really make a difference? But you know when I go, when I’ve gone places before, now they are trying to open and then you walk you walk to the door and they go BOOP okay come in and these are the things.

It’s these little things as well as obviously travel is just more complex.

AS: I have a suggestion for you based on a colleague of mine who traveled last week which is to bring snacks because he said the absolute weirdest part was that nothing was open in the airport like yeah it wasn’t very busy, it wasn’t long lines but none of the you know like food or shops or anything were open so he was in one, you know, he had one layover and he said the only thing open was a a burger joint and all like fifty people in the airport trying to get a hamburger because it was the only thing. So bring extra snacks.

CL: No no it’s like eight hours I get used to it cold instant coffee I bring my little like little via packet or whatever be like haha

AS: Chris, what are you thinking for future do you know? yeah have you thought it through?

CN: No I’ve just got this big cloud of doubt.

Something that Corey said actually got me – so uh yeah I’m obviously paranoid – got me a bit more worried which is I don’t know whether you guys have found this but sometimes you’ll get people recruited for studies who weren’t completely honest in the screener and the reason for that is they want the money. And there’s different reasons for wanting the money. I could imagine at this point there’s lots of people who’d want some money for doing a thing and typically the remuneration is pretty good for the kind of studies I run.

I’m wondering how honest they’ll be about symptoms – you know; what’s the repercussions for them? Not so high. What’s the repercussions for everybody else that’s in the environment that they come into? Potentially pretty high. So that’s another concern for me.

When would I be happy to go back? I mean from a personal perspective if I had a vaccine jab that was good for a period of time that would probably make me happier but that still to Cory’s point doesn’t protect the people that I would be going out and seeing. Maybe it does to an extent because if I’m not sick, I shouldn’t be able to get them sick. I don’t know.

It’s something where until the epidemiologists have really worked out what the transmission vectors are what the life of the of the virus is on certain surfaces, all these kind of things — until we’ve got more of a handle on what this virus does, how it lives, how it transmits itself, that’s really when I’ll start being able to make an informed decision.

I think at the moment for me I still can’t make that decision. I haven’t gathered the data yet.

AS: Yeah! How about in terms of as it sounds like and from what I know about the two of you that a lot of the work that you’ve previously done has been in person do you anticipate any changes in you know switching to do or looking for things that you could do remotely or anything?

CN: Yes, I’ve been researching tools. There’s none that I’m super happy with. I mean years ago I actually kind of specialized in computer-supported cooperative work kind of stuff and there’s this paper from way back when by Gary and Judy Olson about how even remote teams really benefit from having at least one session together in person before they go remote because that way they’ve had the opportunity to meet, to understand each other, then when they go remote they can actually understand each other better and it leads to more productivity. It leads to more stuff getting done.

A lot of the stuff I do is workshop based training where we’re actually producing content for the team with me kind of as a facilitator and moderator as we go through the process. So for instance doing design thinking exercises where they come up with potential solutions to their design issues during a one-week or two-week session. You can’t run intensive 10-hour days over a video conference link. You just can’t do it. I mean it wouldn’t be fair on me it wouldn’t be fair on the participants and especially not working from home. Especially not people who have to look after kids and stuff. You can do maybe one hour maybe two hours maximum or one time

I know a lot of the online conferences have moved they’re going online have moved to chunks rather than full-on stuff or half days rather than full days so how do I do that stuff I mean some of the tools are out there doing it asynchronously is kind of appealing but you lose you lose so much fidelity you lose it and it takes much longer part of what I do when I’m doing these in these workshops is keeping people moving, keeping people moving, keeping the timer going, so there’s so we’re specifically constraining them to a specific to a particular time so that it kind of stops them from censoring their thoughts.

If I don’t have that available to me and if they’ve got two days to come up with a potential sketch design is it still gonna be like just a sketch or is it going to be something that they’ve spent more time on which isn’t what I’m looking for there?

You know that it changes everything and as a result I’ve done these things remotely before and I know it’s not optimal so I’ve really got to think about how I can do this to help people do these things remotely

CL: Yeah I think for my purposes I’m not going to be looking I mean I’m looking for work you know as any freelance consultant will do but I’m not differentiating right now in terms of saying if it’s remote its remote if it’s in person it’s in person.

If they give me a choice I’ll evaluate the safety and considerations at that point and generally I’m going to tip if I have a choice I’m going to tip to in-person you know with you know just because that’s what I enjoy and and you know obviously with all those considerations that we talked about you know it’s it’s it’s yeah it’s what I enjoy, it’s my personal feeling of you know of safety, and the considerations and such but yeah and in terms of

In terms of speaking by the way I mean I’ve spoken a lot in the past in person and mainly in person I try and by intent. This year I’ve spoken several times exclusively remotely now which is okay. I mean I don’t enjoy it as much as being with people. What I care about is being with people but I’ve done it and I’ve interacted with several University guest lecture classes as a guest lecturer. Some remotely, some were supposed to be in person then went remote. It’s okay it’s okay…

CN: Yeah, today especially now that we’ve got, especially when you see your audience on the screen I mean it was it was always weird in the old days when you were basically just talking into a camera and he had no audience response at all now it’s bit weird because there’s still people like picking their nose or eating potato chips or something but they’re there and you can see them and you can see whether you had an effect on them on the audience which is I mean that’s part of it for sure.

AS: Yeah yeah that energy back that you get something I miss, for sure. Is there anything that given that your Cory you’re already going back to in-person stuff and Chris you’re you know kind of hoping to when you feel safe, Cory, is there anything that would make you change your mind? Do you think, I don’t know, I’m just curious, like I have a you know sort of a in a way in some ways an easy decision because I have to prioritize my safety so I in a sense don’t have to grapple with some of the safety considerations or the risks because I just my threshold for risk is so much lower.

CL: Yeah right now I mean if you know you look at like and I certainly not an epidemiologist but if you look at like the 1919 flu right it came it came back with a more deadly more resurgent in a second wave you know you know and that it was at that fall or that winter or whatever.

If such a thing happened and all of a sudden you know the personal danger level was higher and simultaneously the danger to other people when you apply all those other stuff we talked about seems higher than sure I would I would say you know what I’m gonna I’m gonna shelter at home again like like I did from March whatever to the present.

But if it stays the same or you know yes numbers go up slightly you know obviously just by the nature of the world being open, as long as I can feel you know reasonably safe and comfortable and and consider everything I need to consider then I’ll probably just maintain the status quo,

Oh and barring obviously some some personal health concern as well like oh now I’m worried about this you know which I don’t have one of those one of those concerns right now but but certainly yes I mean there are there are concerns and also there’s a social aspect here you know if if people say you know nobody should be working in person anymore like right now it’s like well yeah our business decided we’re not gonna go back until what September, November, December, “No we’re going back now but only if you want to” … It’s across the board in terms of what people are doing

if there was one hundred percent you know you should not be out there then yes, I want to not just obey the laws but obey the norms the the social you know that this is the social construct that I live in, in terms of what’s okay

CN: Sure that make sense So we had a couple of interesting questions Adam said what is more of a statement it’s not a question it’s a statement what he’s saying is — let me see if I can find it and put it on the screen — so he’s saying that one of the positives of this is that you’re not limited by screeners anymore. If you can run your sessions remotely, you don’t have to have a geographic place where you’re running your sessions so you can recruit people from a broader range of places.

AS: That’s a good positive yeah Depending on what you’re working on you can actually also get more of the context of how somebody would really be using something so if something’s live and something that somebody would really be using in their car and you talk to them while they’re in their car (hopefully not driving in their car).

I was testing a mobile app where somebody was it was a parent who was sitting in the car waiting to pick up their kids and they were on the app on their phone while they were like waiting for their kids which was a totally much more realistic context to how they’re actually using the thing then I mean so that basically becomes a follow-along it becomes a follow-along study doesn’t it?

Becomes one like where you’re more an ethnographic thing were you actually able to really see stuff in context which of course is something we’re really good about because well we’re interested in because context of use is super important

CL: So yeah what I’d throw in there in terms of Adams point is that one of the main reasons to do I think remote studies is that diverse geography when you need it and largely it’s not so much just diversity of geography for diversity of geography but because the specific user group that you need is really hard to find.

I had one study where was it was soldiers on military bases across the world. Well I’d love to travel the world and meet with them it wasn’t feasible. And it was the only way to access you know this this this particular product all right.

But simultaneously I caution that or I question that you know a lot of times I could do a study in here in the DC area for an interface largely geography is not going to make that much difference It totally depends, yeah.

CN: There’s definitely I mean, time and time again studies have shown that while there may be some cultural differences or regional differences mostly those are subsumed into the greater amount of craziness that’s going on with your app anyway and you fix the big issues before you fix those cultural issues potentially so yeah. Talk about military bases yeah I’ve run studies with military personnel and actually one to a local base and found very much the same answers as as doing them in other places around the country so in the future subsequent sessions that we did for that client we just stuck with a local base because we knew that there wasn’t really it was cheaper for them and it was we knew there wasn’t to be that much difference so yeah for sure but if you’ve got very few people or if they are remote it really helps.

AS: I was going to say I think that it also depends, I used to work at Staples which is based in Boston actually outside of Boston and we used to do in-store studies all the time but all the time people would be like oh ike “My cousin Joey works at the office don’t you know him?” and I’d be like, “No, there’s like 6,000 people, no” But when I moved to North Carolina at first I still worked there and I would do studies here locally in the stores we got very interestingly different results sometimes so I think there’s interesting it’s not just the cultural differences of geography.

Sometimes there’s the halo effect of it being a hometown store or or that kind of thing so I’m — look I don’t think I’m ever gonna say that like — I’ll go I’ll revert back to “it depends” but I think that you can find good valuable research in in both remote and in-person.

And that actually just reminded me another thing that I’ve had a lot of success with doing remote sessions is when there are people who um maybe just weren’t accessible maybe they are their mobility is limited or they have you sort of different factors that prevent them from coming into a lab or showing up at a store for a retailer I was working for or whatever and so I’ve found that I’ve been able to get more diverse user sets in some cases.

Going remote, it allows for people to be more inclusive in recruiting. And that’s on you to make sure you do that, right? And you should be doing that anyway if you’re in-person but it’s sometimes just easier.

CL: The converse of that is I’ve done a lot of research with fully blind users as you know for accessibility purposes like real like real world situation kinds of things not just kind of the functional test style, and I found there’s always there’s sometimes the interaction between screen sharing software and screen reader software which makes it you know — with you know enough of an incentive to cover like cost of transportation and such like — that that that inclusivity often is easier in person, I’ve discovered.

I want to throw in a different idea. I noticed that Tara posted about the energy created from in-person events can’t be replicated which i think is also the energy posted from in-person research which I think also is, you know, speaking personally, the energy that in-person events when the client is there and you’re interacting with the client as you’re doing research is the way as a freelancer is the way that a client will want you again.

And I’m not saying that again you can’t do remotely either. You can generate some of that energy too but it’s a more of a surefire way like again when when you feel safe they feel safe everything’s all good there is a synergy there that you know speaking from a business side you know they want to hire you again because they met you and they they can go oh you know we it went well.

CN: Right. Well it’s not just it’s not just the the synergy of wanting you back again it’s even just how can you how can you convince a client that an issue exists and if you’re there on site and you go “See! see it again? see it again?” and you’re actually there to kind of make sure that they understand that yes, that is the issue happening, and yes, it’s happened all these times.
Especially and you say client but I mean it is it’s the team it’s the whole dev team or product team can be there depending on what you’re doing and I mean it’s hard enough to get the product team to watch sessions anyway and if it’s like oh yeah it’s a remote hing I can tune in I can watch it later they never will.

AS: My old trick of bringing snacks (pizza!, cookies!) to the observation room does not work if there is no observation room If there’s only a digital room.

CN: “I’ll send you candy in the mail if you watch my sessions” Ah, no, it’s not the same is it?

CL: It’s not the same and I absolutely am a proponent of being creative and encouraging people to watch our sessions and and in some ways it might make it more available to everybody if there’s a live stream of it

But on the other hand it is much easier to tune out or to multitask or to decide to skip it. And I would say so for the remote studies I’ve been doing I keep a chat stream with the client I’ve done that every single study I’ve done in the last couple months and at least then you could say “hey what you think about whatever” and then I’ll go there they’ll tune back in so so it does help.

It’s not the same absolutely like what you said Amanda, it’s not the same you know as you know what you do, well like that interaction that you get in person.

AS: Yeah it’s easier to fall in love with us when you get to be in the same room

CN: It’s easy to fall in love with us at the best of times!

AS: So yeah yes well speaking of falling in love with us we are planning to do more live streams we are just about to the end of this one but we would love to get your feedback about what topics you’d like for us to blabber on about next week or the week after or the week after so I want to invite you please to comment if you are watching this later you can still leave comments or you can leave it on the sticky notes chat page you can head to our our website and check out past conversations there or you can leave any one of us a note with a sticky note chats hashtag and we will well keep forward

So I want to just kind of put it out do either of you have any final thoughts on presence in the kind of current state of things in research?

CN: I think Cory’s a brave man.

AS: I’m curious to hear after you actually fly I want to hear an update from you because my colleague who for the last week had a very very interesting experience

CL: Yeah yeah I did buy ten different masks to try them all out. I’m like if I’ve gotta wear masks
straight for eight hours I need something comfortable and I have spent several hundred dollars on masks

AS: If anybody has any mask tips, send those directly to Cory! I won’t be leaving my house for a little while.

Alright great well thank you both so much for chatting with me and thank you everybody who tuned in or for those of you who are watching later again let us know if you have any questions or things that you would love for us to talk about later on

CL: I’d say follow all three of us if you’re not already because we’re gonna rotate this stream so it shows up in our feed so if you follow all three of us this stream the next time will show up in your feed too, we think!

AS: We’re still working out the technical things.

CN: Yeah we’re struggling against platform limitations but yes we’re working it out

AS: Alright well anyway thank you again everyone thanks Chris and Cory and we’ll
see you for the next Stickynote Chat

CL: Yeah thank you to both of you as well

AS: okay bye everyone

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