Prevalence and State of User Research
User research is well established in the UK and has become an integral part of the design process, especially in larger companies. However, the UK marketplace is still divided between low-cost pro forma testing and a full-service, deeply analytical approach.
Aside from traditional usability testing, a wide range of services are also available in the UK including ethnographic research, home visits, longitudinal studies, benchmarking studies, focus groups and competitor research.
Availability & Location
The majority of leading user research companies in the UK own dedicated user research facilities, particularly if located in central London. In addition regular viewing facilities are also widely available throughout the country and can be configured to accommodate user research.
Because of the emphasis on ethnographic research in the UK a good proportion of research is conducted in the workplace, in the home, or out and about – indeed wherever the user interacts with the product or service.
Most usability testing facilities in the UK will feature an observation area, frequently behind a one-way mirror so that clients can observe sessions as they take place. PCs/laptops and screen recording are typically provided in the hire rate, although charges may apply. Technologies such as web streaming and high definition recording are not overly common in regular viewing facilities, but can be found in more specialist facilities. Likewise there are relatively few facilities that will provide a full range of gaming platforms and digital TV services.
The UK can be an inherently more expensive country in which to conduct research, because of its general cost of living. For example, a standard single underground fare for a short journey can cost £4 or $8 USD.
Charging models for user research facilities will vary, from hourly to day rates, special rates for evening sessions or even charging per depth session. Often evening and weekend rates are more expensive, especially in London. In addition many viewing facilities, i.e. not professional usability studios, will charge extra for items such as PiP recording, DVD recording or an unusual technical set up. It is generally advisable to obtain a detailed quote to understand what is included in the cost.
As in other countries recruitment fees vary according to the complexity of the participant required, the length of the test session, and the location of the testing (lab or in context). Currently a reasonable range to expect for recruitment (excluding incentive) would be £60 - £100 per participant.
Cash incentives are fine and generally preferred, unless recruiting high net worth users such as lawyers, when a charitable donation may be more appropriate. As with recruitment fees, incentive costs vary according to the complexity of the recruit and length of session, but start from around £50 per participant.
User research and market research is well established in the UK, and consequently there are many agencies offering recruitment services. These range from large to small agencies, some covering many industries and some specializing in specific industries, e.g. medical. Many recruitment agencies don’t advertise heavily, to avoid being inundated with bogus or ‘groupie’ participants. Accreditation for agencies includes MRS (Market Research Society) and AQR (Association of Qualitative Research).
Drop out rates
As in other countries, it is recommended to over recruit to accommodate for no-shows. Typically we advise recruiting 1 standby or ‘floating’ user for every 6 recruited.
We typically advise asking the participant to arrive 15 minutes early for a session for registration to avoid any problems with punctuality.
Even though recruitment may be started early on in the project, it is common for the schedule to be provided only a day or so before the testing. Often this can be concerning to clients, but it is quite the norm for the UK and does not necessarily mean that there are recruitment difficulties.
Language and translation considerations
In the UK, we are not generally very good at languages! Professional translation agencies do exist for a very wide range of languages, but research firms tend to be more familiar with working in English.
Visitors to the UK should be aware that dialects vary according to the region visited. The most obvious being Scottish, English, Irish and Welsh accents, but regional dialects also exist. Due to a long history of immigration there are also many other languages domestically spoken the UK including Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu and Guajarati.
Testing design and protocols
Quantitative vs. qualitative
There are no factors unique to the UK in the choice of quantitative and qualitative methods; it is typically driven by project needs. It should be noted that where quantitative questionnaire data collection is extensive throughout a session UK users are more likely to turn off than East Asian users, and data may be less robust.
In the UK we try to replicate the natural environment of the participant using the product or the service. So for web testing this would tend to be at a desk, whereas for TV this might be a more informal living room setting.
Technology and connectivity
Internet connectivity in the UK will typically be around 8mb. Technologies such as web streaming and high definition recording are not overly common in regular viewing facilities, but can be found in more specialist facilities. Likewise there are relatively few facilities that will provide a full range of gaming platforms and digital TV services.
Think aloud vs retrospective
The think aloud approach is more in the UK as a default. The methodology originated in the UK and is widely taught in UK universities so facilitators are familiar with it. British users also tend to respond better and offer more insight with a degree of ongoing facilitator interaction. Retrospective protocols are widely used, in particular where metrics or eyetracking are required.
In the UK, it is preferential to run projects with 2 consultants (one moderating and the other note-taking in a separate room), as users do not tend to narrate well unless they have someone in the room to chat with. Similarly to the US, consultants alternate between moderation and notetaking from session to session.
Travel and transpotation
Travel to and from this country
The UK is very well connected via airlines, with most cities having an airport. In London, there are 5 major airports; London Heathrow (Express 15 mins/Underground 1 hour to central London), London Gatwick (express 15 mins/Rail 30 mins), London Stansted (Express 45 mins), London Luton (25 mins Rail), and London City (25 mins DLR). Each also has bus services available.
Other major cities with airports in the UK include; Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Travel within this country
For long distance journeys there are good rail serviced in the UK and timetables and fares can be found at www.nationalrail.co.uk. Car hire is also a good option when traveling around the country and bus services are also available in most of the UK.
In most cities public transportation is preferable to driving due to traffic congestion, particularly in London. Bus and London Underground information can be found at www.tfl.gov.uk.
The UK, and London in particular, are diverse and very multi-cultural. User tests may consist of people who speak many languages. Screeners need to be carefully worded to ensure against recruiting participants that were not born in the UK (if this goes against the recruitment profile).
In the UK there is a variable degree to which people say what they mean. Some are very direct, while others may be more circumspect than in other countries. There is also a tendency for UK participants to be overly positive in their comments. For example, we regularly find times where participants have struggled a lot with an application and yet are still politely positive about it. Consequently, facilitators should probe for deeper meaning behind what users are saying, and apply more analysis and interpretation than in other countries.It is worth bearing in mind that politeness is highly valued in the UK. The use of “Please” and “Thank You” are appreciated and are likely to produce better results with UK participants.
Comfort using technology*The UK is the most active online population in Europe, with 72% of the population now online and over ¾ regularly shopping online. 25-34 year olds make up the higher proportion of the online population, but Internet usage is broad, with over 50s accounting for over 30% of the total time online. Mobile Internet is used commonly, but generally by under 45s. According to Ofcom, digital television penetration recently reached 80% of TVs, and use of on demand and catch up TV services is steadily increasing. Game console ownership has risen to over 24 million consoles. Like most of Europe use of social media has become increasingly popular, with over 30% of Internet users using at least one social network.
The Data Protection Act (DPA) laws in the UK protect participant confidentiality. Permission must be sought (and is usually given) to record video, and participants should be anonymous in reports.
Holiday, seasonality, and timing considerations
Testing in the UK is best conducted on weekdays. Testing early on Monday mornings, Friday evenings or weekends can be arranged, but no-shows are more frequent at these times and need to be taken into consideration. Weekends are particularly difficult, especially since recruiters do not typically work on weekends and there is a lack of backup if problems occur. Also, it is often difficult to recruit users from the last week before Christmas until the first full week after New Year, due to holidays. Sessions scheduled around the Christmas period are also more prone to disruption due to no-shows. Other times subject to disruption are Easter holidays, which typically fall in early to mid April.
Criminal Records (CRB) checks are required for researchers who will be left alone with a child as part of research. However, this does not apply if a parent is present. It can be difficult for researchers to obtain CRB check status, as typically they have to be applied for through schools or youth organizations. Recruiters will also not schedule children during school hours or late in the evening on ethical grounds, which can prolong a fieldwork phase.Consider also that in the UK, people do not have official photo IDs, although they may have work IDs.A final concern may be the Data Protection Act (DPA) laws which protect participant confidentiality. Permission must be sought (and is usually given) to record video, and participants should be anonymous in reports.