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10 Exciting (and Underutilized) Strategies for Remote, Unmoderated Research

Break out of your methodological rut! Here are a few novel tactics for getting rich insights from remote research.

We do this method remotely. We use this method in the field. And we conduct this in the lab.

Compartmentalizing our UXR practice is sometimes practical; certain types of research lend themselves to certain tools and modalities.

But it can also be limiting.

As we work to transition more of our research remote, we may find that we’re surprised by the rich data we can collect, the types of insights we can glean, and the varied methodologies we can run effectively in a remote space.

Within the dscout platform, we have a tool for remote, unmoderated, mobile research. We call it Diary, and we’ve found that name to be a methodological misnomer. People use dscout effectively for far more than diary studies—and the type of data they unearth never ceases to surprise us.

We’ve outlined some of our favorite ways we regularly see remote, unmoderated used to its full potential—and offered a few pointers for how you can follow suit.


A note: we definitely think of remote-qual through a “dscout-platform” lens—but we hope this piece can serve as a “jumping-off point,” regardless of what your research toolstack looks like.

Some dscout specific vocab to be familiar with, in case you’re not a user: we call our research participants “scouts” and our studies “missions.”


Jump to:

1. Spend a day with your users
2. Track organic usage
3. Plot the user journey
4. Unearth key “Jobs-to-be-Done”
5. Collect competitive intelligence
6. Conduct a “real-world” usability test
7. Clarify ambiguous findings
8. Dig deeper into personas
9. Go in-store or in-home
10. Ship and evaluate

1. Spend a day (or five) with your users

Why?

User-centeredness derives from empathy, which comes from seeing as your users see, experiencing along with them. This means seeing them both in the moments involving your brand and in all the moments outside of that narrow experience window. Do a deep dive into their day-to-day, and use the findings to inject empathy into every corner of your business. Good marketing, selling, planning, designing, and experience building comes from a truly empathetic understanding of your users’ lives.

How?

Ask scouts to take you along with them as they live their lives. Start a longitudinal study broadly: ask them, over the course of multiple days, to check-in throughout their day with video or open-ended written submissions—showing their “highs” and “lows” around a prompt (ie. the highs and lows of their workday, their commute, etc.).

From there, narrow your inquiry into the spaces (both digitally and physically) that your brand, product, or experience lives and operates.

What do they look for in an insurance provider, and what benefits of insurance are valuable to them in general? How do they plan vacations or time away from work? What do they think of app-based messaging services and which do they like? You’ll learn a lot more about your users by asking them questions at higher altitudes. This can provide the basis for new strategies, products, or the foundation for personas.

2. Grab some organic usage moments

Why?

You probably have gobs of usage data from your engineering, product, and customer success teams, but is it telling the entire story? Knowing—or even seeing—what, where, and how a person clicks or taps along with an experience gives you nothing about what’s on their mind or face.

Going beyond the single moments of interaction with your experience will give your team the context, environment, and wider picture to understand motivations and outcomes of each touchpoint. Seeing the context in which usage occurs can go a long way towards suggesting opportunities for you and your team.

How?

Start with a trigger or anchor statement, “Show me moments when you’re…” and finish with your experience, service, product, or brand. Couple that with contextual follow-up questions like, “What was your goal at this moment?” or “Was this moment a hit, miss, or wish?” (meaning, did the experience meet the needs of your users or leave them wanting more).

Even a few days with a small sample will produce a bevy of data points for your team: from friction points to eye-opening use cases you just couldn’t have imagined in a planning or strategy session.

3. Plot a journey or a process

Why?

It’s easy to miss critical steps in your users’ journeys or lack visibility into how your users make decisions about foundational aspects of your experiences. Instead of stale reactive surveys or focus groups, or the hassle of trying to coordinate in-homes or shop-alongs, ask your users to show you their process and journey as they’re experiencing it. You’ll gain in-the-moment data about touchpoints you need more visibility into, and uncover the missing ones you didn’t know existed.

How?

Start by mapping the journey’s steps: Are they pre-defined or are you hoping to see how your users organically and naturally do something? In either case, create a mission soliciting individual entries (or moments) that correspond with the steps in the process or journey.

Build questions that ask for a step title, goal, a video showing the step, and what could have been useful in the step. Before you know it, you’re documenting, tracking, and unlocking a contextual, data-rich map that will produce (and continue to produce) insights.

4. Leverage a “Jobs-framework”

Why?

 A Jobs-to-be-Done framework offers insight into the different ways users think about and call on your experiences. It can also serve as an innovative way to brainstorm and prioritize your “next big thing.” As with any remote, unmoderated study, you’ll get authentic, in-the-wild Jobs moments, which adds to your team’s confidence in the data. You’ll see the jobs being done and your brand being hired, in real-time.

(We wrote a complete guide to Jobs-to-be-Done style interviewing. Read it here).

How?

Jobs research usually can take two forms: 1) asking scouts to show you all the brands, products, and services they “hire” for specific jobs or 2) asking for all the jobs a single brand, product, or experience can perform for them.

Both are valuable to your experience design, and both can be combined in the same mission: it’s all about the wording of the mission. In the former, each moment is another experience being hired (with contextual questions about it); in the latter, each moment is another job your experience serves. Both are invaluable when faced with growing or updating experiences.

5. Collect competitive intelligence

Why?

Your product marketing or sales team may only be capturing some of your competitors in its intelligence reports (if they even have the bandwidth to create reports at all). Instead, hear about your competitors from the mouths of those it most matters to: your users. Get intel into not only ascending players, but peek into how you stack up. You might be one innovation away from leading.

How?

Competitive Intel work is very flexible on dscout, and with remote research in general. It can be granular, wherein scouts try your product and then another to compare side-by-side. It can also be higher altitude and exploratory, whereby scouts are asked who they think of when they need to complete a task, accomplish a goal, or do a job.

Additionally, this is a great time to ask about characteristics and qualities that make an experience worth using, and to gut-check how many of those items your own teams embody and create for your users.

6. Conduct a “real-world” usability test

Why?

The usability lab, while offering great control, can stifle creativity and hinder natural exploration of an experience. Moreover, many usability studies are too narrow, and miss other pivotal experience design friction points that go beyond—but still affect—that button placement your designers are so interested in. Most importantly, by taking a step back and asking for scouts to try and do X, you’ll see how they really navigate, explore, and think about your product’s flow, giving your design and eng teams a font of intel to use in sprints and iteration work.

(The team at Dropbox relied on “real-world” usability to get essential, product-shaping feedback on their new, desktop product. Peek inside their process for inspiration).

How?

Use dscout’s media question to have scouts capture on-screen interactions or to screen share on mobile and desktop. Have them narrate what they’re doing and why along the way. You’ll not only see as they do, but you’ll also get a peek into their thought processes informing those actions. Follow that up with questions about clarity of a page, intention, and what they would change, and you’ve got rich usability data based on an actual—not contrived or clinical—experience.

7. Get some clarity on an ambiguous concept

Why?

Today’s most innovative, most loyal, and user-centric companies tap into constructs that matter to their customers. These are often challenging to define or spot. What does it mean to be “trustworthy,” “local,” or “a partner?” and how do your users define these murky constructs? Identifying and defining your brand ethos is pivotal to marketing, sales, and retention of users. You likely position your brand on a set of core values—do those resonate with the people you want to attract? Find out for real.

How?

Ask scouts for great examples of companies who embody the value or concept under investigation (e.g., “Show us five businesses that feel ‘local’ to you, and describe why.”) or have them generate values for your brand: are you trustworthy, inclusive, stable? Alternatively, dive into how users understand a topic like “privacy” or “family.” Seeing moments when these concepts are top-of-mind for users can help your business better react and design for the real expectations of the market.

8. Dig deeper into segments or personas

Why?

Your personas or segments may have been cobbled together from existing data streams and lack the richness of lived customer experience data. An incomplete (or inaccurate) picture of your personas and/or segments leaves you designing for fewer users, and not fully meeting the expectations of your current ones. Remote qual offers more chances to connect with—and confirm—your vital personas and segments and socialize their importance internally.

(We wrote up a few frameworks for designing personas that’ll actually be adopted and relied on. Read it here).

How?

If you feel confident about the personas you have, send them on a series of missions to confirm and update them: Are they still engaging with your brand in the ways you’d expect? If not, what needs refreshing? Simple missions asking for usage moments, daily check-ins, and co-creations offers mixed data types for a fuller picture. If you need to create personas or segments, take the questions your team has devised to demarcate a customer and create a diary mission to test them.

9. Go in-store, in-aisle, or in-home

Why?

Traditional in-fields can be cumbersome, resource-intensive, and often feel like the user wasn’t fully candid with their responses. Combat many of these drawbacks by leveraging your users’ mobile phones as a pocked field researcher, offering exclusive access, scalability, and ease of management. See aisles, garages, pantries, and other physical world experiences from the perspective of your users, no travel needed.

How?

Begin with what (and where) scouts need to be, then build contextual follow-up questions to understand their perceptions and experience of your target. Have them walk through a self-checkout scanner, or open their medicine cabinets and give a tour. Maybe your team needs to see their tool sheds or understand an in-store experience. Whatever it is, simply anchor scouts to that location, build your follow-up questions, and press “play.”

10. Ship something for evaluation

Why?

Because your teams want—need!— to see how users unbox, setup, and start using products. What better way to do that than in the user’s home on their own time? With dscout, you can see the entire process: from first impressions, all the way through deciding whether or not to continue usage. And this approach can be used for digital products, too, giving your eng teams a leg up on prioritization and resourcing.

How?

Build a set of study “parts” to track an unboxing, initial setup, and highs/lows of the first week of use. Program questions about when, why, and how users are leveraging the products. The best part is the authenticity and in-the-moment nature of the data: you’ll see when they’re using it, and hear about it (in a reflection style Mission) when or if they don’t.

Benw Circle Portrait
Ben Wiedmaier

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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