User Research in Krisenzeiten mit Unic
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User Research in Times of Crisis

And suddenly, there’s a pandemic. Just like many others, the usually travel-happy Unic folk suddenly found themselves stranded on their home office islands. All of a sudden, everything was different. Some started doing yoga in the mornings. Others were fighting neck pain from working on the sofa or felt lonely like never before. Many of us also had children to home-school and entertain. Some of us felt like a deer in the headlights. Others got extremely creative, sorted their books by colour or started designing fancy background images for Zoom meetings.

Seeing the Crisis as an Opportunity

We all felt it: COVID was changing us. It was changing our everyday life, our emotions, needs and behavioural patterns. But how exactly were we changing? We wanted to find out. During a lockdown. So, a few Unic user research specialists put their heads together – online, of course, abiding by distancing rules. We wanted to quickly get an understanding of people’s new needs and behavioural patterns during the COVID crisis. To use the crisis as a window of opportunity to anticipate changes in the market.

Because one thing was for sure – neither we nor our customers could pretend that the plans we made in January 2020 still made any sense. If you want to stay relevant, you need to adapt. That is always true, essentially, even when there is no pandemic.

Learn More in Two Weeks

With an explorative approach over two weeks, our user research team tried to understand what would still be important to people after the crisis. In early May, they conducted seven qualitative interviews with employees between 25 and 40 years from Switzerland and Germany. The hypothesis: a crisis such as the pandemic changes people and their behaviour, their motivations and desires.

The easygoing feeling of myself and other people when you're out and about, I miss that.

Interviews Reveal the Why

Why did you conduct qualitative interviews? It would have been easier to collect quantitative usage data.

Katja Dreher, UX researcher: The quantitative data are void of emotion. They don’t show me anything about personal goals, moods and possible insecurities. In a personal interview, that is, a remote interview via Microsoft Teams, it is much easier to capture the situation and a person’s context.

Andrea Malele, SEO specialist: If we just trace what people were googling in retrospect, we can only react. But with these fast-paced changes, we should be acting, not reacting. That is why we did qualitative interviews, to get a glimpse of what people are going to care about in the future. This way, the company gains an advantage in the market.

Reyhan Keckes, digital analyst: The insights I gain from qualitative interviews are a valuable addition to quantitative data. I don’t have to wait to see the new characteristics in the data. This approach allows me to identify new behavioural patterns and needs early on and to optimise accordingly and immediately. By asking open questions, we also get answers to the ‘Why?’ question. This context doesn’t become quite as clear with other survey methods.

Every Friday night, we now order Momos and ice-cream and celebrate having survived another week.

Same Motivation, New Behaviour

What are your most important findings?

Katja: Our hypothesis was confirmed in part. The crisis did change the behaviour and wishes of the interviewees. The motivations, however, stayed the same. To us, motivation denotes a character trait that describes how important certain goals are to a specific person. If a woman enjoys eating out, that motivation does not simply go away just because of COVID. We can assume she will start to eat out again as soon as it is possible to do so.

Reyhan: In terms of behaviour we saw that the interviewees initially picked up new habits. They started to go running or they went vegan. At the same time, they questioned their old habits. The lockdown had everyone slow down and reflect.

Katja: So, everyday life will be different. The motivations will be the same, but some newly learned behaviours will stay. We also saw people begin to appreciate their families of origin more. People want to try and take more control over how they spend their time. Social interaction changes and is shaped by measures taken to handle the crisis.

Andrea: Along with the qualitative interviews, we also did desk research. It was enlightening to read what scientists and philosophers think about this major change and the future. What is intriguing is that one thing has not changed – i.e. the uncertainty that we base our everyday decisions on. It was there even before the crisis; we had just put it out of our minds.

Understanding Reduces Uncertainty

What are you going to do with the results?

Reyhan: These insights gave us important pointers on what to change on customers’ websites. It is not enough to just add a COVID info box with the new opening hours.

Katja: It helped us better understand how people are faring in this current crisis. For customers with specific target groups, we conducted the interviews with selected persons. The goal is always to reduce uncertainty. Once we understand what motivates customers, we can optimise the user experience accordingly.

What other methods do you use in user research?

Reyhan: That depends on the question. We use methods such as qualitative interviews, online surveys, contextual inquiry, A/B tests and user tests.

Katja: For me, the human always comes first. We work with the human-centred design approach, which focuses on the user, and select the right method accordingly.

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