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The Opportunity and Evolution of Digital User Research

CXR Lead Tim Rairdon highlights the unique insight opportunities of mediated research and walks through his preferred jobs-to-be-done template.

Words by Tim Rairdon and Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Jarred Kolar

If you’ve met any of our CXR team members, you know they’re expert researchers as well as dscout pros. Tim Rairdon is no exception.

Tim evolved his career in remote research from its scrappy—and often buggy—heyday to the mature, empathy-scaling (and team-saving) tool it is today in our hybrid world. He's had a front-row seat to building and bettering the tools and techniques that make digital, mobile research such a ubiquitous framework for many innovative companies.

We caught up with Tim to ask for his perspective on the evolving research space and his advice for those just starting out with this approach. Plus, he shares with one of his go-to jobs-to-be-done templates with us.

What was your path into user research? How does that path impact your work?

In undergrad, I majored in psychology and self-designed a minor in film studies (shout out to Knox College). Both of those education experiences helped me find my way into user research.

On the psych side, I was involved in as many of my professors’ research projects as they’d allow, so I could explore what areas and types of research interested me most. I scored a paid gig as a research assistant in a visual cognition lab studying the cognitive processes involved in musical sight reading (a dream for a psych/music nerd).

I found myself acting as an experimental confederate in a few professors’ experiments—truly creative ones. One that comes to mind was run by a professor who still researches human sexuality.

The particular study I was involved in explored the effects of male pheromones on female receptive flirting behavior. Anyhow, the whole interaction between me and my female counterpart was video recorded with an old VHS video camera that was set up behind a small two way mirror.

After dozens of sessions, the researchers analyzed the videos and coded the behavior for signs of receptive flirting (e.g., eye contact, playing with hair, touching me back, etc.).

I can tell you that this kind of early exposure to and involvement in creative research design that involved capturing real behavior on video inspired me as a budding researcher. It taught me to think about how video can be used in combination with other data inputs, like closed ended responses, and to really think about what aspects of the video will be analyzed, and to use this information to inspire the questions and participant instructions.

On the film side, I self-designed a film studies minor so that I could study film history, specifically the very early Soviet-era cinema that was being made right after film technology came out.

The early artists were experimenting with editing techniques like montage and generally exploring what made film art unique compared to other art forms. These early, experimental filmmakers absolutely inspired me and were top of mind when I started working in mobile-based qual research in 2012.

Each project was an experiment; we were testing what recruiting and screening approaches worked and didn’t, what fieldwork management approaches inspired participation and didn’t, and—most excitingly—what questions and tasks generated insights that you couldn’t get any other way.

I sort of saw a parallel between how those pioneering film-makers were experimenting at the intersection of technology and art to identify what made film, and how we were experimenting at the intersection of technology and research to find the unique ways in which smartphones could deliver insight.

How has the remote user research world evolved since you began in it?

The researcher-facing tools have become more usable and enjoyable to use. In the very beginning of my career working at Over The Shoulder, we didn’t even have a basic website to organize participants’ responses.

We had to export everything, including every media file, which we’d then organize into folder structures that reflected the study/task design. We’d put tags in the media file names to make them searchable on a computer.

Since then, user researchers like Taylor Klassman have turned their attention to remote research tools, and the end result is that they’ve become drastically more usable and enjoyable to use. Both from a study building and analysis perspective.

The knowledge of how to design remote unmoderated research well has spread and is more accessible than ever. More people know the basics of how to do things like design a mobile-based Diary mission than ever.

Whereas in the early days the knowledge lived in the heads of a small group of practitioners or specialists, you now see resources like People Nerds dedicated to spreading best practices and the knowledge built into platforms in the form of customizable study design templates.

More projects follow an iterative approach compared to when I started. People have evergreen access to remote tools and platform subscriptions, so each project feels less precious. That is, there’s less pressure to stuff a project to the gills with questions and tasks because you fear it’s your only shot to do a project with a remote qualitative tool that year.

Conversations related to inclusivity and participant diversity happen more regularly during the recruiting process. Researcher demand is increasing for tools that are accessible to more people.

What are some ways you've helped folks advocate for this approach (remote)?

It’s cost effective and efficient

It’s less expensive and takes less time compared to flying researchers to different locations to talk to users. You can talk to more people in more locations in less time. This is especially so with international research.

You capture moments that you just wouldn’t see or hear otherwise

When people have an easy way to capture experiences in-context and in-the-moment, they’ll reveal things that they might not remember (or want) to tell you about in an interview setting.

There’s an amazing video submitted by a participant in one of the first in-store shopalong studies I designed. In it, the participant is walking down a grocery store aisle while he records a selfie video and talks about his grocery shopping approach.

Right as he’s saying “I make a list. It’s as simple as that. I make a list of what I need to buy and only buy what’s on the...” he pauses and grabs a sweet packaged snack off of an end cap, puts it in his cart, smiles and finishes by saying… “Well, I usually only buy what’s on the list.”

I think he was smiling because he caught himself telling us one thing and doing something different. And when there isn’t a researcher in a room to make them feel judged or scrutinized, I think people are more comfortable opening up and being honest. In short, you can get a fuller, realer picture of your users’ behavior and needs when you involve remote methods.

Tim’s template: Jobs-to-be-done

If you're newer to remote, digital user research approaches, it can feel confusing to know where to start. Jobs-to-be-done is a nice framework to use with dscout, because each moment can be another job or need, and can work for digital, in-person, or hybrid experiences. When customers come to me without a ton of mobile research experience, something like this is where we start.

I worked with my CXR teammates Lewis White and Claire Ruggiero to put together this template. To use it, swap in your own product/service.

Project overview

Welcome to your mission "INSERT TITLE NAME"!

In this 3-part mission we want to learn more about your experience using {{product}}. Here's a little more info about what you would share in each part:

  1. Part 1: Introduction: introduce us to the product / feature and the "job" you've hired it to do.
  2. Part 2: Product moments: document three (3) moments when you use the product / feature in your day to day.
  3. Part 3: Reflection: reflect on your use of the product / feature over the past week and share how its performing at its job.

Please remember to give detailed, thoughtful responses to all of your responses.

There are no right or wrong answers because we are here to listen and learn from you about your experience with {{product}}.

Part 1: Introduction

Instructions: For this first part, we want to learn more about why you first began using {{product}} and your current experience with it. This part should take around 10 minutes.

1. Open end, no character limit
Before you purchased or used {{product}}, what did you hope it would bring to your life? What did you imagine it doing for you?
2. Multiple choice, single-select

How does your current experience using {{product}} compare to your expectations when you first purchased the product

- Greatly exceeds expectations

- Exceeds expectations

- Meets expectations

- Worse than expected

- Much worse than expected

3. Open end, no character limit

What are all the possible things {{product}} currently helps you achieve? List our as many as you can:

4. Open end, no character limit

Of all the things {{product}} allows you to do that you just listed, which three are most important to you? How does it perform at each of these tasks/goals?

5. Multiple choice, single-select

Is there anything {{product}} does or features that you rarely or never use?


- No [skip to Q7]

6. Open end, no character limit

Which features of this product do you rarely or never use? Why?

7. Selfie video

In a 1-2 minute video, we'd love a tour of how you currently use the product. Specifically, what does this product do for you, how does it work for your? What are some things you particularly like about this product?

8. Open end, no character limit

What are some pain points you experience while using {{product}}?

9. Multiple choice, single-select

Before first using {{product}}, was there another way you were able to achieve what this product does for you now? This could be another tool or any method of accomplishing the same goal as {{product}}.

- Yes

- No [skip to Q13]

10. Open end, no character limit

What other method, tool, or solution did you use before {{product}}? Describe some of the similarities and differences between {{product}} and this other solution.

11. Open end, no character limit

What made you make the jump to {{product}}? If you still use/have both what factor affects which product or method you choose to use?

12. Multiple choice, single-select
How does {{product}} compare to the previous method or tool you used to achieve was {{product}} does?
Much better than previous methodBetter than previous methodSame as previous methodWorse than previous methodMuch worse than previous method

Part 2: Product moments

Instructions: In this part, you'll share specific moments when you are using {{product}}. In the next week, whenever you use {{product}}, as soon as you are finished open up dscout and submit an entry about your experience.

To move on to part 3, a minimum of {{chose number}} entries is required, but if you use {{product}} more times and you want to share that would be awesome! If possible, try to vary the types of moments you share with us.

1. Multiple choice, single-select

Which of the following best describes where you are at this moment?

- Home

- Work

- School or library

- Another person's house

- Retail store (including grocery)

- Restaurant, cafe, or bar

- Gym

- Commuting, in-transit

- Other [tell us]

2. Multiple choice, multiple select

Who else, if anyone, was involved in this moment. Select all that apply.

- No one, just me

- Coworker(s)

- Family

- Friend(s)

- My children

- Partner/spouse

- Roommate(s)

- Other [tell us]

3. Selfie video

Set the scene for this moment: What were you doing before you started to use {{product}}? Why did you decide to use {{product}} in this specific moment? What was your goal of using this product in this moment?

4. Multiple choice, single-select

Did you consider achieving this goal by using a different product or an entirely different method?

- Yes

- No [skip to Q6]

5. Open end, no character limit

What other products or methods did you consider at this time? Why did you end up choosing to use {{product}}?

6. Multiple choice, single-select

Did you use any other product(s) in tandem with {{product}}?

- Yes

- No [skip to Q8]

7. Open end, no character limit

What other products/tools did you use in this moment? How did they help {{product}} complete its task in this moment?

8. Open end, 140 character limit

In one sentence, summarize your goal when using {{product}} in this moment.

9. Multiple choice, single-select

How well did {{product}} achieve your goal in this moment?

- Very well

- Well

- Alright

- Poorly

- Very poorly

10. Open end, no character limit

What is this product doing very well at this moment? Please be as specific as possible.

11. Open end, no character limit

What could {{product}} have done better in this moment. Please be as specific as possible.

12. Open end, 140 character limit

Which emotion did you want to experience during or after using this product in this moment?

13. Multiple choice, single-select

How well is {{product}} helping you achieve that emotional goal in this moment?

- Very well

- Well

- Alright

- Poorly

- Very poorly

14. Multiple choice, single-select

Overall, how often do you use {{product}} with this or a similar goal in mind?

- Very often

- Often

- Sometimes

- Rarely

- Very rarely

15. Open end, no character limit

If you did not have access to {{product}} how else would you have achieved your goal in this moment?

Part 3: Reflection and ideation

Instructions: Welcome to your third and final activity. In it, you'll reflect on the week using {{product}} and have the opportunity to share your own idea for the perfect version of it.

1. Open end, no character limit

What one thing would you change about this product to make it better for you in the future?

2. Open end, no character limit

Why would you make this change? How would it impact your ability to achieve your goals while using this product?

3. Multiple choice, single-select

How valuable would this change be for you?

4. Instructional text
We want you to design your ideal version of this product. Think about the different goals of the product and design a new product that would accomplish these goals. If it would help you to draw your creation and make notes feel free to do that! Note: it doesn’t have to look anything like the current product. We want you to use your imagination here and come up with your perfect product
5. Multiple choice, single-select

Would you like to include a picture?


- No [skip to Q7]

6. Photo

Take or attach a photo that helps explain your creation.

7. Selfie video

In a 1-2 minute video, explain your creation: Highlight aspects of your creation that differ from the actual product. Why did you make these changes? What new outcomes are possible with your version of {{product}}?

To try Tim's template and see other ways dscout can assist you with upcoming projects, connect with our team!

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