User Testing in Southeast Asia is HARD

October 15, 2018

During my career, I’ve worked as a product designer at companies of various sizes, ranging from 200,000+ employees to 15 employees. The larger companies have a dedicated team of user researchers but at the smaller ones, I had to initiate and conduct user research sessions on my own as a designer.

Seeing and understanding a small group of individuals interacting with the product before we get to the launch eliminates all the pressure of building a product that might not even work for our target users. Don’t get me wrong, using quantitative data and analytics is a great way to understand a bigger picture of how the product and the business is doing, but getting quantitative data about how users interact with a product takes significant investment because you need to actually build it.

My BIGGEST issue…

Even though user research is so clearly the best way to iterate on product designs early in the process, conducting user research sessions can be tricky. My number one problem with planning a session is user recruitment. Here’s what I mean by that.

Where do I find these people?

There are some things that money can’t buy and this might be one of them. Of course, giving people incentives for participating in tests attracts them much easier than not. But before we can even pay users to participate in tests, where do we even find them in the first place? Where do we even get their contact information?

Size doesn’t matter

I used to work at one of the biggest, if not the biggest, e-commerce company in Southeast Asia. We do very regular usability testings in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. The company was big and we definitely had a large enough budget to pay people to come in. However, we still struggled with recruiting users. We couldn’t invite people who were not already our existing users because we didn’t know how to find them. Using existing users for research will work in some scenarios where we are launching new features, but for testing why people are not using our product, it doesn’t make much sense.

There are some recruitment services that could find us the people we need. They would also provide us with a moderator and even a proper testing environment. However, they can cost up to 5,000 USD for only 10 users, and it is very time-consuming to plan. Since we do this very regularly, it’s not worth it for us to be spending so much time and money on these services. This is especially true for the startups I’ve worked at before, we didn’t have this kind of money to spend on user testing.

People have things to do

I recently tried to do a research session where I asked my coworkers to invite people they know who haven’t used our product before to come in for a user research session at our office. I also specified in the email that these people will get some incentive for coming. The response I got was very underwhelming. Most people had full-time jobs and were not going to take leave just to come here for the small incentive.

These people would have to travel all the way to our office to do an unclear task, which is a bit intimidating even if we pay them a lot. They also feel like it is more of a favor and so they were not super committed to it. A lot of people canceled last minute which really messed up of testing schedule and our over product timeline.

No remote testing service in this region

I’ve used a remote testing service where I uploaded a prototype onto their platform and it would send me videos and voice recordings of people interacting with it. I thought that was pretty cool. It was so much less time consuming to plan, a lot cheaper, and the result was instant.

The only issue was the people who interact with the prototype were professional testers who are very tech oriented and do these kinds of tests very regularly. They lived on the other side of the world and had nothing in common with the group of people who were actually our customers. This made the results not super useable in my opinion.

I can’t speak their languages

Working at the regional office meant that there were a lot of people from different cultures we needed to cater to. The language was one of the main issues we faced. Since we didn’t have local user researchers, we had to ‘beg’ people from the local offices, who weren’t user researchers, to help us with the interviewing every time. Most of these people had no experience in conducting usability tests before.

Not only did the interview have to be in the local language, the materials we use during the testing including the prototype or the surveys also needed to be translated. I remember having to send each word on the interface, one by one, to the local team to translate. And then, one by one, they would send the translated version back so I could edit my original design file into that local language. I had to do that for the whole prototype since the local team didn’t know how to use, and also didn’t have the access, to the design software we use.

Not only that

After the testing was done, the local team also had to help us translate their notes and research materials because we couldn’t understand any of the voice and conversation recordings. Again, the local team was only doing us a favor, they also have their real work to do. Overall, it was always a draggy process with a lot of people involved when it comes to non-English speaking user research sessions.

Rice Milk Research helps you with user recruitment in Southeast Asia countries, now focusing on Thailand. If you struggle with these things too, check us out and leave us a comment! We would love to hear your struggles too!

Thanks! :)

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