Learnings from international user research
Even with living in a globalized world, there's a need for international user research and testing prototypes and designs in different countries. This article summarizes the learnings from international research of Anne-Kathrin Wilbers and John Dumas from UX24/7, a global design agency based in the UK.
It’s a summary of their talk at the UX Research Munich Community talk, which you can watch in its full length here.
Reasons for conducting international research
Anne and John compiled the obvious and the nonobvious reasons for international UX Research:
#1 Discover Research when entering a new market
International UX Research (obviously) helps when entering a new market. It’ll enable you to find out if and potentially how a product or service fits into the new market. Also, it’ll help you identify potential region-specific pain points you haven’t been aware of before.
#2 Learning about country-specific rules and regulations
Doing user research on a global level will put you in a position to take local rules, regulations, and systems into account that might immediately impact your product, service, and business. For example, ZX24/7 pays special attetion to different payment behaviors and delivery systems. Past research identified crucial differences in how people expect product deliveries and which systems they’re familiar with. But also, they’ve learned about various healthcare systems and people’s expectations of healthcare, leading to country-specific product launch recommendations.
#3 Identifying (unconscious) stereotypes
Even if you focused on finding region-specific solutions for your product and service, there’s always the risk of finding solutions based on unconscious stereotypes and assumptions that don’t match local perspectives. For example, the team at UX 24/7 uncovered such an assumption when researching the space of luxury goods:
#4 Identifying country-specific concerns
More obviously, conducting international user research will help you identify concerns that don’t apply to all users worldwide. For example, the team at UX24/7 uncovered major regional concerns about ordering products from abroad in their recent study.
#5 Finding more bugs
Doing user research on a global level will potentially point you towards bugs, even if you’ve already spent a lot of effort on testing. There are some things that potentially slip through when designing a product or service for multiple regions. For example, UX 24/7 found bugs when testing a sign-up workflow in Germany when users wanted to enter their names correctly using vowels.
The role of translation in international UX Research
International research projects go hand in hand with the need for translations. From live translations during research sessions (face-to-face or remote) to translated recording transcripts, there are different areas for translations. Here’s what to watch out for when translating interview guides and other resources for a UX research project:
Interview guides and session resources
UX24/7 had native speakers in the countries they conducted research in. In the beginning, the native speakers simply translated interview guides right before a session in the local language. With that approach, they quickly learned the importance of having a proper translation, even when testing early-stage prototypes. If not, you’ll probably get a lot of user feedback on spelling and find understanding issues that do not necessarily correlate with the user flow.
What to watch out for when translating for international UX Research Sessions:
Professional (human) translators are still the best way for the team. Only relying on translation engines for interfaces can confuse, hindering your learning about your research objectives.
A good translation goes beyond word-to-word and considers terms, definitions, and concepts.
Participants might get confused within a workflow that would work smoothly with a better copy.
Based on their learnings, the UX 24/7 teams include professional translation services for interview guides and prototypes and run additional internal checks to prevent the listed problems above. Here's an example of when they would need to adapt the translated guides:
Translations during user interviews
In addition, translation also returns to the picture regarding what is said within the session. This kind of translation can happen live or afterward, working with recordings. Here’s what the team at UX24/7 learned about translations during research sessions:
When they organized live translations, the team observed a much higher interest in stakeholders engaging in a research session.
Whether a live translation is organized in-person or online, you’ll have to figure out some technical challenges. However, online meeting tools helped the team when working with translators. For example, they use Zoom’s live interpreter service, allowing participants to switch to live translation within the same call.
When using a tool for live translation, this will often generate a transcript for translated spoken language. UX24/7 enables someone from the team to store the recording locally to have a transcribed interpretation directly available. However, be aware that working with a translated transcript makes the interpretation process more challenging, and you will have only one interpreter covering various conversation participants.
Conducting UX Research via Zoom
Tips for international ResearchOps
Always make sure to double-check time zones and holidays - for participants but also for everyone involved (researcher, translator, note taker, and eventually stakeholders)
Find your tool set but be flexible as sometimes you might need to switch to a local alternative for research. Example: Even if Zoom has become their go-to session tool, for some local user research, they needed to change to other services when participants were unfamiliar with a tool.
Recruiting participants internationally comes with challenges: It might make sense to work with field agencies to help find participants but also support you with communication, scheduling, and ensuring you’ll have enough participants matching your study criteria.