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It's never been easier to sell products or services all around the world. But while the internet has ensured that companies have access to a large customer base, it's still the quality of UX that determines whether a digital product is fit for global users.
Taking your business online is the norm. Service providers which have been successful at a local and national level are bound to make breaking through on the international market a central part of their business growth plans.
What does this mean for the UX design project? In order to create experiences that live up to the expectations of unfamiliar user groups, UX research also needs to go international. Get ready to pack your bags and step away from the computer! The quest for localized user input begins now.
A lot of UX professionals work remotely. This has its pros and cons. On one hand, it's amazing to have the opportunity to work from anywhere. On the other hand, the need for a UX professional to be physically present has become negligible thanks to cooperative tools such as Figma, Zeplin, and Slack.
That being said, organizations that value user research and offer it as a standalone service have several travel opportunities for their research team. The necessity of field research becomes more evident as the complexity of the design project increases.
While tight budgets might make it impossible to conduct field research, clients that are genuinely interested in improving the usability of their product will allocate funds to UX research specifically. There is no substitute for the opinions of users.
Exploratory research is a qualitative process which relies on interviews, contextual inquiries, and ethnographic exploration as its main methodologies. It can be done in person (which we'll be discussing at length) or long-distance, according to the project budget.
This research effort helps UX researchers understand the context in which the design will be used and get accustomed to user behaviour within the target market. It is an important factor in the refinement of design decisions. Additionally, this process is crucial in determining whether the project itself is relevant. The findings provide much-needed clarity to the design team and stakeholders alike.
Before you begin planning international UX research sessions, here's what you should take into account:
1. Collect and organize preliminary data
When targeting a country or a specific group of countries, it's important to do some preliminary investigating. Read up about customs, trends, and the economy of the local market. Environmental and socio-economic factors also come into play. Organize your findings and use them as a basis for the more in-depth research which will be done on site.
Do not underestimate the importance of cultural research. Theories about individual and market behaviour can help you get an idea about your future customer base.
2. Have a clear set of objectives
Before hopping on a plane to talk to locals, you have to establish what exactly you'll be researching and why. Once that's been sorted, explain how international UX research will help the client reach their business objectives. Determine the methodology you will use to review the findings.
Make sure the research effort follows a clear objective. Avoid getting sidetracked or looking to validate your own assumptions.
3. Understand how data privacy can interfere with the research effort
It is crucial to establish the legal boundaries of the research effort and then adapt it accordingly. Data protection laws vary across the world, so consulting with a legal professional is the best course of action. Aside from that, you can use the websites of government agencies and your embassy to read up on potential restrictions. Contact them for further inquiries - it's free.
When working on a veterinary practice management software project, Creative Navy's research team visited 35 clinics in the Netherlands, the UK, and Germany, all in a 2-week timeframe. This gave us the opportunity to observe and interact with 150 users. Some were seasoned professionals accustomed to using the interface, others were beginners that had never used a practice management system in their lives.
A veterinary practice management system comes with an added dose of complexity because the patient also has a caretaker. A pet can change owners within its lifetime or have multiple owners within a family and all those extra entries make the clinic database more intricate.
We elaborated and tested our research techniques long before we bought our plane tickets. We decided to use a combination of semi-structured interviews, surveys, and observation sessions in order to get an empathetic perspective of what it means to be a nurse, veterinarian, or receptionist. Then, we scheduled our visits to the 35 clinics.
The research effort's primary goal was to help us understand which elements of the interface worked for the staff and which were a cause for concern. We assessed and adjusted our protocols as the process unfolded. Improving our approach after each iteration ensured we would get relevant results.
Being in the clinic helped us:
Being there with the users allowed us to accurately identify their needs. Additionally, we were able to see firsthand how the practice management software supports the business at a larger scale.
For maximum efficiency, we segmented the data we collected and coordinated with our design agency's HQ throughout the research effort. This helped us formulate a 5-year improvement plan based on our nuanced observations.
Exploratory research does not only benefit the project stakeholders. It also has an amazing effect on team morale and boosts cooperation skills among researchers.
More often than not, clients fail to see the value of user research. Instead, they dismiss it as a waste of time and money, unaware that this process actually saves them resources in the long run. Choosing to ignore user research costs dearly.
Every design team's worst nightmare is creating a product which has no use for its target audience. Designing without taking into account user data sets projects up for failure. Even if the product ends up being salvageable, future improvements will cost more than if the client would have made allotments for user research from the very beginning.
While traveling to conduct user research is largely conditioned by project budgets and the preferred practices of design agencies, it remains one of the major perks of having a career in UX. Design projects with complex requirements usually depend on user research to infuse their digital products with much-needed clarity.
Designing with no consideration for user needs is antisocial. Only immersion and observation can reveal the true scope of people's experience when using a digital product. In order to get people to care about a product, you as a designer must care about people.
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