Modern Russia is a multinational and multicultural country with a complicated history behind. It differs much from the former Soviet Union - from economy to people’s life style and mentality. Due to the recent economic and political changes, the life in Russia is very speedy and dynamic, especially in big cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc.
As for the society, due to some historical reasons, collectivism still prevails over individualism: people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, and rate group’s values more than personal’s. Also the society is quite hierarchical and people in general accept and agree with power distributed unequally.
However, the new generation that was born in the Russian Federation varies from those who were born in the USSR, and perhaps, will introduce new trends and tendencies.
Prevalence and State of User Research
User research is a relatively new field on the Russian market. Forming traditions of HCI in Russia are heavily influenced by Information Technology field - the majority of HCI specialists came from IT. Although HCI has a connection with ergonomics, that was at an advanced level in the Soviet economy, especially in military, space and aviation sectors, nowadays this knowledge is partly lost and is not used in the other sectors. Today Russian HCI consultants learn from Western countries and the USA.
The structure of demanded services over the last 10 years has changed. Several years ago, sponsors mainly requested user interface design services, but over the last 2-3 years, interest in user research has significantly increased. The fast-growing Russian market has recently attracted international attention as a part of global user research projects.
User research studies are mostly conducted in Moscow.
There are a few usability labs specially designed for usability studies. Sometimes facilities for marketing research with observation and testing rooms are used for user research study.
Although there are plenty of marketing agencies that professionally recruit participants, it is very difficult to find an outsource agency that helps with recruitment as a separate service, because agencies would prefer to take the whole project, not only the recruitment.
Drop out rates
The no-show rate is around 10-15%.
Usually people are pliable about the time for sessions. For instance, many people in Moscow have flexible working schedule, some of them work late in the evening.
Distance and time to travel should be considered for participants as it may affect punctuality. For example, regarding Moscow, traveling from one end of the city to the other by metro may take more than 1.5 hours while traveling by car might take several hours because of congestion.
Language and Translation Considerations
Russian is the principal language of Russia. Although there are dialects in Russian language the difference is quite small and this fact does not cause any difficulties in understanding. Thanks to the Soviet Union times, people on the huge territory (including CIS countries) can speak, read and understand Russian very well.
While more young people are starting to speak a foreign language, it is still difficult to find people who speak English fluently and it is not possible to conduct a study or to talk to participants directly in English. Finding interpreters for almost any language is not a problem in Moscow, one only needs to find the best rates. As a general rule, interpreters who speak uncommon languages request a higher rate.
Testing design and protocols
Quantitative vs. qualitative
Qualitative study is accepted as a traditional standard. Thinking aloud protocol is very popular.
Usually usability test is conducted by teams of two: moderator and notetaker, although sometimes an experienced moderator can conduct sessions alone.
Travel and transportation
Travel to and from this country
Be prepared for getting Russian visa that may take quite long time.
Quite a lot of foreign and Russian airlines operate direct and connection flights to Moscow and major Russian cities. Moscow has 3 main international airports.
Due to huge distances within the country, to save the time it is also easier to travel by air.
Travel within this country
Many visitors are very surprised at how expensive Moscow is. One can hardly find an inexpensive hotel in the city center. The hotels in the center start at 250 EUR outside of the peak season so you should spend some time to book a proper hotel and book it in advance. Many of them will ask you for 100% in advance. To save money, ask your host for some tips and try to avoid the tourist places and services. During the Soviet rule, Westerners were perceived as wealthy and, still to do this day, some visitors might be asked to pay double price. Again, it is very useful to have a Russian speaking person as an attendant or consultant who can help you while you are staying in Moscow.
Consider distance and time when traveling in Moscow, congestion can increase car transport by several hours.
Russia is a large, heterogeneous country with a population of 142 million people representing more than 180 nationalities. As such, it is impossible to pick one city or region as representative of the whole when doing a study in Russia. While some might think that testing in Moscow would be representative, Moscow is actually a very special city that differs from the rest of the country by economy, cash flow, size, mix of multi-national population, habits and mentality of citizens.
There are more than 10 cities with a population exceeding 1 million (such as Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Omsk, Kazan, etc.) and it is a good idea to consider both “Moscow” and these other “regional” markets as they vary from each other in many ways. St. Petersburg should also be taken into consideration, as it has historically competed with Moscow for the role of the capital of the country.
Because the field is so young, many participants do not even know that user experience firms exist in Russia. Despite this, the majority of participants are very excited while taking part in user research studies and enjoy the general idea and the goal of usability research. They are also excited that somebody cares about the end users. For many, the idea that they can influence final results of the study is appealing.
When managing user research studies there are some features of the Russian audience that could differ from other countries. For example, Russians are typically not critical about products and services of foreign brands, especially famous ones with good history and reputation on the Russian market. The reason for this dates back to when the country was known as the USSR and commercial products were deficient. It is wise to remember this and hide foreign brand names from participants. This step should help to get objective opinions and reactions.
Also, Russian people are generally very critical about visual design. They like a nice visual style and pay a lot attention to it. Do not be surprised if a participant, while talking about overall impression of the Web site, keeps saying that the site does not look nice or have clear enough pictures and images.
Russians like to show off, so if somebody has a ‘fancy’ mobile phone it might not tell anything about his/her income level. There are cases when people even take credit at a bank to buy a splashy, brand new device. So when working on profiles, take into account that personal income is not a determining characteristic of the owners of an expensive device. In short, it is better to consult with local user research team regarding participant profiles.
There are some cultural peculiarities that should be taken into account when preparing for focus groups studies: Russian people in general respect both social and organizational hierarchy, especially elderly people. Russians are influenced by a group's opinion. In this respect, focus groups should be well prepared and skillfully moderated.
Comfort using technology
The percent of Internet users in Russia is around 45%. It is higher in Moscow - about 60%.
When recruiting elderly participants (55+) for a study, it is useful to know that, in general, they are not Internet users. Also, they might not criticize digital products/services because they think they are at fault for not using them correctly, rather than the products/services being inadequately designed for them.
While participants normally do not mind being recorded during sessions, it is not common practice to sign consent forms (or any other papers). Participants usually do not like to sign forms, especially complicated ones that are unclear or confusing.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
It is difficult to recruit participants on weekends or holidays, especially in Moscow and large cities; people value their spare time. You can always check Russian holidays in the calendar, but be aware that they tend to change, including ‘free days’ for New Year and Christmas. The period of vacation around these holidays, for example, can vary from several days (1, 2 January and 6, 7 January) to almost three weeks (1-19 January). Also be aware that Russians come back to work in January quite slowly after such a long vacation. For specific Russian holidays, check www.timeanddate.com.
It is also important to understand some formalities when signing a contract with Russian firms. Working with foreign firms is quite complicated from the point of view of a Russian company. A contract and acceptance report should be signed as obligatory documents. If the amount of contract exceeds 5000 USD, then the Central Bank of the Russian Federation controls the transaction and the Russian firm should report all official documents to the bank within certain deadlines. If the Russian firm is paying abroad, the contract amount is liable to an 18% VAT. Also, all Russian firms have their own stamp that it used in the above mentioned documents. Do not be surprised if your Russian colleagues ask you to do the same.