Germany is a country with many facets and a rich cultural background and history. Therefore it is difficult to catch it in a few lines. A few aspects:
• The educational system is geared towards technical and academic achievement.
• Germany is still strong in quality engineering of manufacturing technologies.
• In the older generation, rationality is still emphasized over emotionality, steadfastness, reliability and punctuality over flexibility and creativity.
Prevalence and state of user research
While the level of maturity regarding user-centred design practises has been slow to catch up with forerunners like the US, usability testing has become a very common approach over the last couple of years in Germany. Other user-centered design methods, however, are not so widespread, but there are more and more companies taking the users’ requirements into account earlier and more comprehensively.
Availability and location
There are a few larger usability consulting companies in Germany, along with several smaller ones that offer usability services. Usability research and tests are mostly conducted in big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin and Cologne, but testing in other cities or more rural areas is also possible. In this case, recruiting may take longer and conducting tests might be more expensive (due to higher traveling cost, for example).
SirValUse Consulting, is the largest German user experience consultancy. It has offices and labs in Hamburg, Hannover, Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin. With a staff count of 50+ specialized consultants, SirValUse is capable of carrying out large studies on a high quality level and within a short period of time. SirValUse also offers a broad spectrum of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including some own innovations. Combined online / offline (incl. remote testing) and advanced quantitative methods are available, as are eyetracking hardware and remote observation cameras as well as streaming video.
Costs for a study strongly depend on the exact focus, research methods, services and timelines requested. Germany is on par with other countries in the EU in terms of the overall level of pricing. In general, costs do not differ too much from location to location within Germany, however testing in rural areas is usually slightly more expensive compared to urban areas (due to inferior testing infrastructure, traveling costs and higher effort for recruitment).
There may be some variation in participant compensation (depending on the local level for cost of living), but obviously the target group profile has much more impact on price.
Fees for recruiting test participants strongly depend on the exact profile of the target group. The following are very rough ballparks:
• Difficult recruit (e.g. diabetes patients, drivers of specific car models, B2B target groups): 100+ EUR
• Medium difficult recruit (e.g. web/mobile users with experience in using specific services, users of a specific mobile phone brand, easy B2B recruits): 60-90 EUR
• Easy recruit (e.g. web/mobile users with very basic profile requirements): 50-60 EUR
Participant recruitment is mostly sourced out to professional market research recruiters who have a pool of possible candidates. At SirValUse, we work with several specialized and trusted recruiters to ensure we can provide both high quality and sufficient capacity. We take additional measures to make sure that participants who have taken part in a usability test before get rejected, even if they are listed with more than one recruiter.
Drop out rates
The average drop-out rate is about 10%, sometimes more, depending on the profile and the time of year. For example, there are more no-shows during the summer, when the weather is nice. We recommend always recruiting an additional 10-15% percent of users to make up for no-shows.
Contrary to the stereotype, not all German participants arrive on time for sessions. It is considered acceptable to be up to 15 minutes late, but arriving later than that is considered impolite.
Language and translation considerations
There are several dialects spoken in Germany, which might make it hard for foreign observers and simultaneous translators to understand participants. Many people in understand and speak English, and most people will be able to happily answer your questions if you approach them in English on the street. Additionally, many young Germans are able to speak another language besides English (e.g. French or Spanish), but they may be too embarrassed to speak out with a native speaker present if they are not fluent.
Although many Germans understand and speak English, there are some regional differences. While most people from the western part of Germany learned English at school (especially during the last 20-30 years), people from the Saarland, a state in the southwest of Germany, learned French rather than English. Furthermore, people from the former German Democratic Republic used to learn Russian at school before the German Unity in 1989. Therefore, people from the eastern part of Germany who are older than about 35 might not be able to speak or understand any English at all.
To organize a usability study in Germany, researchers should be aware that booking simultaneous translation for the sessions is possible but quite expensive. While finding translators for English is no problem, other languages could take some time. Translators tend to be busy, so remember to book them with a couple of weeks lead time.
Testing material should ideally be presented in German.
English is also possible (especially if your target group is rather young and tech-savvy), but it might influence the participants’ performance and feedback and, consequently, the results. When localizing a user interface for Germany, take into account that German words, like Portuguese, French and Italian, are much less compact than English. When translating from English to German, individual short terms in an interface can expand by as much as 280%. For longer phrases of 70 characters and more, the average expansion decreases to 150% (National Language Design Guide Volume 1, National Language Support Reference Manual, IBM, 4th Ed. 1994).
Testing design and protocols
Quantitative vs. Qualitative
There are no overall cultural reservations or constraints in terms of whether to apply or not apply a specific research method in Germany.
Apart from following the general protocol for conducting user experience tests, there are no specific requirements to be considered for running sessions in Germany.
Technology and connectivity
In the usability lab, we usually employ broadband connections but can provide or simulate other environments. Clients are welcome to use our Wifi or wired broadband internet access.
As for general availability: Communication infrastructure in Germany is well developed; UMTS (3G) however is not available in all areas. The wireless connectivity in hotels is usually not for free - "Pay per use" packages for UMTS data cards are available, but are rather expensive. Clients that need to access their company’s data (for example by VPN) should prepare and communicate this before the visit. International wireless data roaming costs are still quite high, so it is probably most affordable to rely on Wifi hotspots at the test facilities to connect to systems at home.
Germans tend to prefer neutral user interfaces over crowded or “flashy” ones (the most regularly expressed statements in our usability tests are “clearly laid out” for good products and “unclear” for bad ones). Generally, they relate to their personal services and devices in a less playful and more utility-driven way. German participants also emphasize data privacy and security concerns.
Travel and transportation
Travel to and from this country
Germany is served by more than 100 international airlines. The most important airports are Frankfurt, Munich, Berlin/Tegel, Cologne/Bonn, Duesseldorf , Hamburg and Stuttgart (there are 36 airports in total). Germany has a very well-developed infrastructure and it’s easy to travel onward by a connecting flight, the railway network or by car.
EU citizen require a valid identity card to enter Germany. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and, depending on their country, might also need a visa.
Travel within this country
All major airports are connected but it may be even faster to use the railway network. It connects both large cities and small towns. By train, you can reach most destinations comfortably within a few hours. Alternatively, one can rent a car and use the Autobahns (highways) for onward travel. Also, there are various bus services and ferry routes.
Larger cities tend to have good public transport (safe, affordable and reliable). Taxis are also widely available and will charge a basic fee of ca. 2.50 - 3.50 EUR, plus costs per kilometer (ranging from 1.20 to 2.50 EUR, depending on location, time of day and length of the trip). It is common to tip drivers ca. 10% but you can give less if the service wasn’t good. Most drivers should be able to understand and speak English. To be on the safe side, have a written address of your destination at hand.
With 82 million inhabitants, Germany is the most populous country in the European Union. As of December 2004, about seven million foreign citizens were registered in Germany, and 19% of the country's residents were of foreign or partially foreign descent. The largest group (2.7 million) is from Turkey, and a majority of the rest are from European states such as Italy, Serbia, Greece, Poland, and Croatia. The United Nations Population Fund lists Germany as host to the third-highest number of international migrants worldwide, about 5% or 10 million of all 191 million migrants, or about 12% of the population of Germany (source: Wikipedia).
For recruiting participants from other nationalities or of foreign descent, keep in mind that this will be easier to do in densely populated areas (i.e. large cities) than in rural areas.
Germans are usually open and interested in learning about you and may ask direct questions. Topics to be avoided in casual conversations include political views, religious beliefs and intimate relationships.
In usability tests, German participants tend to be slightly more critical than the average European. To an observer from a culture that communicates in a more indirect way, it may seem like Germans are blunt. Keep in mind that they do not mean to be impolite. It is their way to express themselves in a straightforward and honest manner. If a problem arises, they want to know about it immediately in order to find a solution.
Think aloud vs retrospective
Applying the Think Aloud method in a usability session usually works very well. Of course it depends on whether a person is shy or outspoken, but in general, German participants are not too inhibited or concerned about speaking out and stating their opinion. If they feel their contribution may be of value or help to the moderator, they will readily give feedback and will try and verbalize their experience, even if it means they need to overcome a little shyness first. We have found that a combination of several methods – Think Aloud / observation, probing during tasks and using direct questioning, scaled feedback and product reaction cards to capture post-session subjective reactions – works best for collecting rich data.
Comfort using technology
Technology is part of everyday life. Almost everyone uses it and feels comfortable doing so. Not surprisingly, young people are more tech-savvy than elderly people. New technologies (especially web/social networks and mobile communication) play an important role when it comes to organizing their social life. Older generations also use technology to a great extent. However, the older the target group, the higher the proportion of users who don’t feel comfortable using technology or – in some cases – even reject using it.
Germans value safety and privacy and tend to be concerned about protecting their personal data. While online shopping is widely used, many – especially among the older generations – have reservations to pay online because of safety concerns and because they are not comfortable to reveal their personal data.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
There are several public holidays in Germany. Some of the holidays are only regional and there are more public holidays in the south (especially in Bavaria) than in the north. In the summertime, from June to September, all 16 German states have six weeks of school holidays, each beginning and ending on slightly different days. During this time, it might be harder to recruit participants because many people, especially those with children, go on family vacations.
In Germany, people generally work five days a week, often from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a short lunch break. As a rule of thumb, evening sessions should be scheduled for working participants, while it is no problem to schedule students, housewives, retired or unemployed people during the day. Very special groups like executive business people or medical doctors will only be available in the late afternoons or evenings.
Testing on the weekend is not very common because people in Germany value their free time. Nevertheless, testing on weekends is possible, but recruiting will be harder, more expensive and there might be more no-shows.
When you plan to recruit business people for contextual inquiries in the workplace, keep in mind that sometimes the workers' councils have to be involved.