Research In the COVID Era

It’s been a year since we’ve been in anyone’s office to interview a project stakeholder. It’s been a year since we stepped foot in a focus group facility to test any design or messaging with a public group. These are the activities that often define, guide, and validate our work. The thought of losing them due to the pandemic was devastating to both our process and our work product. 

Once we learned that a two-week lockdown would linger indefinitely, we knew we had to change it up!

In March 2020, a LinkedIn project that David had been traveling regularly to San Francisco for went completely online. We quickly turned our paper prototypes that we shared with users for ideation sessions into digital prototypes for testing over Zoom. We essentially cut one phase of design and development from our project and our project budget. And it worked.

A few months later, the focus group inquiries came in. Clients asked if we had experience moderating groups online – something we had rarely proposed in the past, but knew we needed to do now. We turned to Zoom again. We upgraded our account and now use an enhanced account that allows us to share stimulus with live polling feedback to gauge reaction. Again, we found that online research allowed us to shrink the execution timeline and the project budgets.

Nine months into the pandemic, clients began asking for other common methods they’d engaged us for before – specifically, getting into people’s homes and workplaces. At that point we dove into the world of asynchronous, app-based inquiry. We identified a tool and partner that engage people, across geographies, through a series of app-based tasks like video diaries that allow us to “get into” their homes.

Looking back on the year, it’s clear. There has always been opportunity for stakeholder and consumer research methods to catch up with technology – COVID just pushed it harder and faster than we’d expected. We’ve also learned that you can get the same quality of insights from a stakeholder or a group of consumers over Zoom that you once got from meeting them face-to-face. The fact that everyone is increasingly comfortable on video conferences helped the industry and our practice make this forced jump. Couple that with the time and investment savings that online research saves clients, and we think it’s here to stay.

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