Switzerland is a landlocked country in the center of Europe with a population of 7.6 million occupying a land mass of 41,000km2. Switzerland is characterized by cultural and linguistic diversity. Switzerland’s lack of raw materials led to the development of specialized industries, such as machinery for manufacturing, pharmaceuticals production, and watchmaking. Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romantsch. Note that only the first three are official languages at the federal level. Though Berne is the Swiss capital, Zurich is the largest city, followed by Geneva and Basel.
Prevalence and state of user research
User research is not common although marketing research is standard for many companies in Switzerland. From the instructional view, schools do not focus on HCI as a program but as an independent area of specialized study. HCI courses in Switzerland are usually linked to Computer Science (ETH Zurich), Psychology (University of Basel) or Educational Technologies (University of Geneva).
Organizational usability or user research is done largely by the telecommunications companies, while usability and accessibility is done to validate the quality of software for the local and international governmental agencies. Switzerland does have a strong culture of design and engineering.
Availability and location
Since user-centered design is still not a mainstream activity, there are few dedicated usability labs. Alternatives are mobile usability labs to set up at the client's premises or in hotel meeting rooms, or focus group facilities that can be rented in larger cities.
Typically, user research is conducted in Zurich and Geneva to cover German and French, and, more rarely, in Lugano for Italian. Geneva is often used to cover the international market due to the presence of the UN and large number of multi-national European headquarters.
Focus group and test facilities are up to international standards, incl. AV recording equipment and one-way mirror.
Cost is based on “per solution” need and therefore it can vary.
Recruitment costs are typically high when using a company as there are few firms that specialize in recruiting for 3rd parties. Incentives for participants are often higher than in other countries given Switzerland's high wages and cost of living.
Recruitment of participants is either done by external market research companies or by the user experience companies themselves, depending on the recruitment criteria.
Drop out rates
Generally less than 5%
The Swiss are normally punctual and dependable
For studies in Switzerland, it is important to specify which languages to test in, depending on the target market and/or the availability of localized test materials.
Language and translation considerations
Switzerland’s three main national languages are German, French and Italian. This has considerable implications for localization: All products and software in Switzerland must be available in the three main national languages and, ideally, should be tested in all three linguistic regions. The most important Swiss websites also have an English version to cater to Switzerland's large foreign residents and workers.
German-speakers account for about two thirds of the Swiss population, with French ranking second at about 30%. Note that the German spoken in Switzerland is an Alemannic dialect called Swiss-German that Germans may find difficult to understand. All written communication and the main TV broadcasts are in standard German. It must be pointed out that it is a myth that all Swiss people speak all their national languages!
Note that if you only have research material in English, most German-speakers will be able to understand it fairly easily, while it can be a real problem for French- and Italian-speakers.
Testing design and protocols
Quantitative vs. qualitative
These approaches are determined when designing the research; as a culture practice there is a preference for the quantitative.
It is worth spending some time at the beginning of each session explaining what it consists of and what is expected from participants.
Technology and connectivity
Switzerland has a well educated population with a high standard of living. This fact is reflected in how many people surf the Internet, which is approximately 78%; only 10% identify themselves as occasional users.
Think aloud vs retrospective
No cultural issues for these techniques being used in testing.
Travel and transportation
Travel to and from this country
It is best to fly either to Zurich or Geneva which is reachable by air in an hour or two from major European cities. The French high-speed train TGV can take one from Paris to Geneva in 3 ½ hours.
Travel within this country
The Swiss national railway is a dependable and comfortable method of traveling within the county (http://www.sbb.ch/en). Cars can be rented but the rail system and cities’ public transportation make cars often cumbersome.
Swiss participants are usually articulate and keen to share their point of view in a constructive manner.
Comfort using technology
The Swiss are very comfortable with technology and boast “an excellent capacity for innovation and a very sophisticated business culture.” This was noted by the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report 2009-2010 in which Switzerland ranked 1st.
Privacy concerns are important at the legal level and the Swiss can be quite concerned about how their data will be handled during and after a user research study.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
When planning user research in Switzerland, it is worth noting that not all 26 cantons have the same public holidays. Therefore, check with your local partners on how best to organize sessions across the country.
Products which are sold in the Swiss market such as equipment, medicines, software and electronics must be packaged and localized to the 3 official languages.
Websites can be published in any of the national languages; this often reflects which markets the website is engaging.