Conducting Usability Tests for the Local Context

PK is a user experience consultant with Objective Asia who specializes in conducting usability studies in the local context. In Singapore, a fusion of various cultures and races, it is often important to understand the local context, so to speak, to garner the best insights. PK provides some important pointers to get it right!

 1. You have spoken to several Singaporeans during the course of various usability tests over the past year. What do you think are the typical characteristics that are common among various income groups for Asian participants? Generally, Singaporeans are still not very receptive to new-fangled concepts. Here are a few typical characteristics based of different demographics: Students (age: 18 – 25) are usually the ones who are willing to try new concepts. They are able to see the value of the product/service and are willing to share their personal details if need be (of course that would tie back to their family background). Young working adults (age: 20 – 29) are willing to accept new concepts only if money isn’t involved. They also do not prefer sharing their personal details such as their IC number. Working adults (age: 30 – 39) are more conservative and would consider many different factors before they buy in to a new concept. For example, if they are considering a product on a personal level, they would see security, ease of use, need vs want and privacy as the biggest factors. On a corporate level, however, this user group is more likely to consider budget, impact on the company, acceptance from colleagues and functionality.

2. In a usability test scenario, where time is of the essence, how do you ensure that participants open up to you?  I always have some casual pre-UT questions ready, to help break the ice with participants. I also carefully mirror their body language. This helps put them at ease which in turn helps me get some real cool insights!

3. How do you suggest interviewers elicit honest feedback from Asian participants who are afraid they might hurt the participants’ feelings? How do you deal with participants who are afraid that they might lose face if they answer a certain way? Singaporeans are generally bi-lingual which makes the interview a little tricky. I generally put out feelers to find the language they are most comfortable with (usually it would be their native language, Mandarin) Participants who are nervous usually require a casual chat to find their preferred language. While participants may be fluent in English, they reveal their uncertainty when they begin to pause for a long time before they respond. In such a scenario I usually try to find another language that they could be comfortable with. Sometimes, participants will themselves slip into Singlish, and perhaps use a word in Mandarin. I pick up on these subtleties and respond to them in a similar manner, making them feel at ease. I will also mirror their body language subtly to let them gain acceptance of me subconsciously or vice versa. 

4. Are there any specific pointers to keep in mind when setting up a usability lab in the Asian perspective? Is there any consumer research to this end? It is important to set the context for a usability lab. This will help give the participant perspective. For example, we recently conducted a study on the TV viewing experience. Small groups of friends and families were invited to participate. To set the mood, we designed the lab to look like a living room, complete with couch, coffee table and television! We even added little touches like curios and potted plants to set the stage and make it seem like a real living room.

5. What advice would you give budding UX consultants who are about to interview participants for the first time? Be confident. Participants are usually more nervous than you are since they are entering an unfamiliar space. If you are not confident, you may indirectly affect the participant and make them feel uncomfortable. This would affect their ability to share their genuine opinions with you. You know they are opening up to you when they begin to get chattier, slip in to Singlish (that’s when they will begin to reveal some genuine thoughts/feelings) and tend to laugh more (hints that they are getting comfortable with you).
Gauge the participant before interviewing them. Ensure that teenage participants have a young UX consultant interacting with them. Having a senior UX consultant interact with them might make them feel uncomfortable and result in an ineffective interview.
Find the right amount of small talk with the participant and avoid talking to them about yourself (you won’t want to skew their thoughts with yours). 
Be very careful not to lead participants. It is important to remain neutral through the entire session. Do not ask leading questions. Ask open ended questions and prompt the participant to speak up. Focus on eliciting clear responses from participants.
Thank you for sharing your insights with us PK! For more on usability testing methods, please contact jbreeze@objectiveasia.com or call us at +65 65956653

PK Yeo & Gowri Penkar

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