Prevalence and state of user research
Compared to Europe and America, usability testing in China is still in its developing phase. Foreign companies in China frequently do usability testing with a variety of products, however local Chinese companies have just started to learn about user experience and usability research. Only in recent years have Chinese colleges started to offer courses on Usability testing.
As a result of their eagerness to learn more, usability consulting companies tend to do a great deal of training during the process of project bidding and throughout the different phases of testing.
Availability and Location
There are a handful of usability consulting firms in China; two or three foreign owned companies and several local ones. Usability research and tests are mainly conducted in big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.
The sizes of the companies are relatively small because of the limited market demand and the lack of usability specialists.
The cost for recruiting participants may be not so expensive, especially when the target users are not specialists.
Recruitment in China is comparatively easy. Recruitment firms have numerous people to call in their databases, making it no problem to recruit a variety of valuable participants.
Drop out rates
The no-show rate is very low. When recruiting participants, it is better to contact with them again one day before the testing to make sure they remember and have time to attend.
It is important to note that because of serious traffic problems in big cities, recruitment firms will deliberately schedule participants 15 to 20 minutes earlier in order to keep the original time.
Language and translation considerations
In China, people from different provinces speak different dialects, and the differences from dialect to dialect are very vast. For example, native Beijing people would not be able to understand the Shanghai dialect. People from Canton province and Hong Kong speak Cantonese, which cannot be understood by Mandarin speakers.
There is also a vast difference in people’s educational level. Without education, it may be hard for people from the south to know the Pinyin system, which is the standard Romanization of Chinese character that serves as the basis for typing Chinese. Due to this issue, they will have difficulties inputting Chinese into their cell phones and computers.
Booking simultaneous interpreters is not a problem in big cities, especially English interpreters. However, they do have a busy conference season which takes place every October, making it important to book interpreters as early as possible around that time.
Testing design and protocols
Through testing, we found that Chinese users prefer user interfaces with a variety of colors (inviting and exciting), flashes (symbol of high technology) and a lot of information (give users a lot of choices).
Quantitative vs. qualitative
Whether it is a quantitative or qualitative research depends on the purpose of the tests. I think Chinese usability specialists are good at doing quantitative research.
Usability testing in China is similar to the usability tests performed in the US or Europe, because most usability professionals are trained in the "standard way" of conducting tests. Chinese usability professionals need to be polite and introduce the test clearly to the users. They need to make the users aware that the test object is under scrutiny, not the user. That’s similar to the US or Europe.
Normally in a usability testing, there are a testing room and an observation room. As the “standard” usability testing settings, one way mirror, microphone, video and radio recorders and sometimes translator facilities are also available.
Think aloud vs retrospective
From observations of conducting tests in China it seems that Chinese users are not willing to talk while they are working on the tasks. It is not like "thinking aloud" described by the researchers. They rarely talk while working on a task. Instead, they talk before and after. For example, if they want to insert a picture, they may say "I will insert the picture". And then they will do that without saying anything even if there are problems. After that, they may talk about the problems they met with while working on the task. But if the evaluator did not ask, sometimes, they may forget to address their issues. So in order to get more information, probing tends to be very important in Chinese usability tests.
Travel and transportation
Travel within this country
If the foreign usability specialists want to travel around, it may be better to be accompanied by a local person because of the language issue.
China is a big country with a variety of people, so selecting the target users is very important for the usability tests. In China, people in different cities, with different educational levels and with different social status may behave differently in the tests. Before doing the tests, the usability consulting companies should make sure the target user group and they should also be aware that those users may only represent a small part of the Chinese market.
Contrary to the stereotype that the Chinese are introverted and reluctant to express opinions, the participants in big cities, especially young people, are becoming more independent and assertive. They love to express their ideas and have a desire to stand out in a crowd.
One interesting cultural difference is that during ratings, Chinese people tend to give higher scores even if they did not complete the task very easily. One explanation of this trend could be that participants are afraid of “losing face.” “Face,” the outward appearance of being good, is very important in this culture, especially for males. Keep in mind that ratings sometimes are not very accurate.
Comfort using technology
The percentage of Internet and cell phone use with city dwellers is very high, similar to other metropolitan areas of the world. However, people in rural areas do not have the luxury or opportunity to always have stable electricity.
Normally the participants do not have problems of being video or radio taped if the usability specialists promise them the information is used for the research or education purposes.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
Both weekend and weekday testing are accepted in China. However, there are a number of public holidays that should be avoided as many people use these opportunities to travel. The Chinese Spring Festival in February, May holiday and October national holiday are three time periods in which it is difficult to recruit participants.