Remotely Researching: Worth a Shot?

A few weeks ago, I attended the LITA National Forum in Columbus, Ohio.  For my first library conference experience, I was gleefully overwhelmed with the wealth of ideas and projects shared by the conference participants and presenters.  (Confession: I am a nerd.  There, I said it.)  Looking over my excitedly scribbled notes, I sought out one of the many titles that had been suggested to read.  On a personal note: I always promise myself to read what others suggest to me, so I felt good about finally following through.

Remote Research: Real Users, Real Time, Real Research proved to live up to the hype.  Not only is it well-written, sharing a vast knowledge in a succinct and organized way, it leaves room for you to explore your ideas about prospective user research projects.  But before I start gushing like a love-struck teenager, let me describe what the authors, Nate Bolt and Tony Tulathaimutte, mean when they talk about remote research.

Simply put, remote research is a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods that make use of Internet tools to do user research on participants who are in another location.  This kind of research allows you to test almost anywhere at some reduced cost (Nate and Tony cover the pros and cons of remote research costs in a dedicated chapter).  Remote research can also provide geographic diversity in results as it observes users where they are, not as they come to you.

What I believe to be the most valuable aspect of remote research is that it is time-aware.  As Nate and Tony point out, “Remote research opens the door to conducting research that also happens at the moment in people’s real lives when they’re performing a task of interest.”  Through live-recruiting, you can get results from users who are invested in what they are doing on your website or interface because they are there for their own reasons.

Sounds amazing, right?  Yet, even as I’m gobbling Nate and Tony’s ideas down, the ever-skeptical part of me begins to rain on my proverbial parade.  What about watching the users’ expressions and observing them during their task?  How does the level of abstraction from the user created by remote research generate empathy for the user?

I wasn’t the only one who had these kinds of doubts – and that’s the beauty of this book.  Much like other books published by Rosenfeld Media,  Remote Research is written in such a way that prompts you, the reader, with in-text case studies, notes, tips, and guest author features that share experiences on what works and what doesn’t.

Nate and Tony also share scripts for how to recruit users and sample elicitation approaches, which gives a context for the remote research methods they describe in detail throughout the book.  They also provide tables that explain the various pros and cons of research tools and software, as they relate to how much time and money you have to spend on your research, as well as system requirements and reliability.

Nate and Tony’s work has given me a lot to think about in terms of how we at DUX might be able to conduct user research for our library website re-design and our new Blacklight catalog.  For whatever phase of a UX research project you’re, or stage in your UX career, I highly recommend delving into this book.  Not only does it get the wheels turning, it provides excellent resources for thinking outside of the user research box.

Author- Laura Manifold

Assessment, Research, Analysis and Training Assistant in the Digital User Experience Department, IUB Libraries. Follow me on Twitter: @lauragmanifold Personal website: lauragmanifold.tumblr.com