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  1. Service manual
  2. User research
  3. Choose a location for user research

Choose the location that will work best for each round of user research. You don’t always need a full research lab, and many types of research are done best in other locations.

You can run research sessions in:

  • research studios or labs
  • meeting rooms
  • a participant’s home or workplace
  • public spaces (pop-up research)
  • your office (using a laptop or phone for remote research)

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

Considering different locations for your user research sessions will help you pass point 2 (do ongoing research) in your service assessments. You may have to explain decisions you made for different users and development phases.

Hiring research studios

A research studio (or usability lab) is a dedicated user research space. A studio will support a range of research activities, including:

  • interviews
  • usability tests with a variety of devices
  • focus groups
  • workshops

Most external studios provide reception services to welcome participants, collect consent and handle incentive payments.

Observation and recording facilities are built-in, and facilities often include a way to stream sessions to remote observers. This means your team and stakeholders can watch them even if they’re not in the studio.

However, research studios can be expensive and are rarely available at short notice, so you need to book well in advance.

Participants are also taken out of their normal environment, which means you can’t capture information on their usual behaviour or surroundings. They also need to travel to the studio. If they have accessibility needs, you may not be able to recreate their home set-up in the lab.

Using meeting rooms

A standard meeting room is a good location for many kinds of research, including:

  • interviews
  • simple usability tests
  • focus groups
  • workshops

However, you might need help to welcome participants, collect consent and handle payment for your participants’ time. You may also need to bring your own devices and manage your own recording.

Some venues don’t like visitors sticking worksheets or post-its on walls, and streaming to remote observers might also be difficult.

If you want people to be able to watch the session, GoToMeeting and JoinMe are useful streaming services.

Going to a participant’s work or home

Your participants’ homes and workplaces are ideal research locations, helping you to understand how your service fits into their lives. This will really help in the design process so it’s important to do this early on, ie in the discovery phase.

You can ask participants to:

  • show you how they use a live service
  • give feedback on concepts and prototypes
  • test a new service

The familiar context will make it easier for them to remember details and provide rich feedback. Being in their normal environment also means you can gather contextual and behavioural information that you can’t get in the lab.

This option isn’t always available as participants can feel uncomfortable having researchers in their home or at their workplace.

For your own security, always visit people’s homes with a colleague. When your research involves contact with children or vulnerable adults, get advice from your department or organisation before speaking to them.

Using public spaces (pop-up research)

Do pop up research in places where your target users are likely to be so you can reach those with particular needs, eg:

  • visit a university if you want to talk to students
  • go to a job centre if you need to talk to the unemployed or those on benefits

You can get a lot of participants to take part in pop-up research and there are no costs, except for travel and your time.

If using a public space, you should:

  • get permission to use the area
  • be prepared to improvise as you often won’t know the place
  • avoid setting up near entrances, exits and places where people are in groups
  • take care of your equipment and bags

Carrying out remote research

When you carry out remote research, you only need to use a laptop or phone (or both) to talk to participants.

Remote research is often best when you need to connect with users who are far away or busy. An example of this is when the Home Office used remote research to talk to Chinese citizens in mainland China for the visa exemplar.

Read a blog post about how the team carried out remote research: China tourist visas: user research.

To do remote research effectively, you need to:

  • work out how you’ll show designs to participants
  • make sure your participants are set up correctly (eg with screen-sharing tools like Skype or GoToMeeting)
  • consider any issues with browsers, bandwidth or digital capabilities
  • work around time zones if you’re doing research internationally
  • decide how you’ll record sessions

Although remote research can be very effective, you won’t find out as much about your users’ usual behaviour or environment as you would if you met them in person.

Examples and case studies

You may also find the following blog post useful:

You may also find the following guides useful:

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User research community
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Guidance first published