It goes without saying that the last couple of weeks have been rough. Really rough.

Seemingly out of nowhere, we had an overwhelming number of challenges and fears at our door; hitting everything from our personal health, our families, our jobs, our country and our ability to go about our normal day-to-day. If this hasn’t made you an anxious wreck, please hit reply and share your secrets 🙂

In these very strange times, we appreciate that our valued partners (that’s you guys) have new challenges and strains, and so we want to make it clear that we’re here, fully charged and ready to help in whatever way we can - even if it’s just getting some advice / insight on our remote processes. Please don’t hesitate to give us a shout!

This thing, however long it lasts, needn't stop any of us.

As part of our focus on new working processes, we’ve included an installment on remote user testing. It is still critical to involve your users in your design process and luckily there are a raft of excellent tools and techniques for getting this down without the UX lab.

We also look at what opportunities are offered by Amazon's Alexa Everywhere initiative on TVs and how to build trust through product strategy.

Have a great week, Hi Mum! Said Dad

Remote Testing 101

User testing is at the heart of a lot of our discovery and generative processes. From testing the water to to sweeping, business-defining projects, testing with real users is a great way to get real, actionable feedback on how concepts perform in the hands of real people. Even just one day of effective interviewing and consulting real users consistently reveals new insights, opportunities or validation for projects that could otherwise spend months heading down a design dead-end, or misunderstanding the true value proposition of the offering.

If, like us, you've started working from home - it's easy to feel like talking to users has become impossible. Not being in the room can make moderation more difficult as there's value in being able to read people's body/facial language as well as seeing them interact with a physical device. Planning out how to distribute your prototype can be troublesome, and your ability to carry out physical exercises or adjust the test on the fly becomes more difficult. In general we tend to default to in-person testing - but there are plenty of scenarios where remote testing is perfectly viable, or even preferable!

Most of the challenges are surmountable - participants now, more than ever, are perfectly comfortable taking part in tests over tools like Skype or Google Hangouts, and programs like InVision Sketch allow us to easily create and distribute app prototypes that participants can access on their own devices. Unmoderated tests (ones without an interviewer present on the call) also have the ability to pre-define questions to ask users about their experience or thoughts to recreate the effect of probing or dynamic lines of questioning.

In reality, a lot of our user tests over the last year have been remote - even when they don't necessarily have to be. For example, remote testing makes recruiting niche user groups a lot easier as participants needn't be available in London on a weekday to take part - when you start talking about very specific user types such as professionals in a certain field or early adopters of a new technology, remote testing helps to widen the net without sacrificing the quality or relevance of participants. The corollary of that is that we can test with more people in tighter time frames - in unmoderated tests in particular you can leave a test running over a weekend, gather the results and start actioning them in the next week.

Just because we're not literally in the lab, doesn't mean we can't keep lab testing!

How Amazon, Samsung and LG are putting Alexa everywhere

Alexa's march towards being the platform for voice keeps on going, with Alexa becoming the included voice assistant of choice for a range of smart TVs including huge players like Samsung and LG. With over 40 million monthly active Fire TV users, 100 million Alexa devices sold and 20% penetration of smart speakers in the UK, the scale is there to reach serious audience sizes by creating compelling experiences.

Amazon's key challenge against their main smart TV competitor, Roku, is neutrality - whether Amazon's Fire TV is a platform, or just a product. Where Fire TV has had a shaky past, briefly losing access to YouTube, Roku is seen as a much more neutral partner to the various services.

One of the ways Amazon is tackling this is through Skills - third party applications for Alexa and various devices that make the most of both voice and the various screens that can accompany it. Being able to show that Fire TV/Alexa is a platform for great experiences and not just a portal to Amazon's media offerings is crucial.

To that end, there's a huge opportunity for great skills that make the most of voice on smart displays and TVs to get in early and become a poster child for Amazon's 'Alexa Everywhere' strategy. Compelling experiences here can earn name-free invocation (think "Alexa, find me a recipe" instead of "Alexa, open [recipe skill name]") and pride-of-place within the TV interface - driving awareness and traffic through brands.

We've seen huge traffic numbers go to skills that earn first party status or name-free invocation, and expect to see similar benefits for those who can create the sorts of compelling experiences that the huge audience are waiting for.

How To Use Strategy To Build Product Trust

Trust is commonly defined as reliance on the integrity, strength, ability […] of a person or thing. But how do we determine which brands have that integrity and hence are worth relying on?

Oxfam had three guiding principles in mind. It knew that in order to trust a charity, its supporters want to feel reinforced after signing up, want to get closer to the impact of their giving and want to feel in control.

However, the gap between these principles and reality was significant. Trust in charities had been eroded - even some supporters believed that charities misspend their donations or that their donations would not have a material impact on seemingly insurmountable problems. Some people were reluctant to sign up in the first place as they felt they would be constantly bothered to donate more and reducing or stopping the donations would be made close to impossible.

Addressing these issues would not be easy. There were serious challenges in implementation and commercial risks considering enhanced control makes cancelation much easier.

Weeks of in-depth research resulted in strategic suggestions that addressed this challenge by focusing on transparency, authenticity and autonomy. The features of My Oxfam app were centered around these values.

Firstly, the lifetime history of donations communicated complete transparency. The user could see where, when and what was donated - which applied not only to monetary donations, but clothes and other items given away at the Oxfam shops as well.

Secondly, regular stories from the ground were sent to the users - the research showed that supporters are less interested in polished content and care more for raw, authentic stories, showing the direct impact of their donations. So we offered them just that.

Finally, immediate donation control was given to the users. If they wanted to increase or decrease their donation, they could do so with ease - a few clicks on the app would adjust their contribution, and it would be just as easy to change it again.

These changes made a difference. Just as we expected, people do tend to donate more through the app: non-emergency single gifts are 89% higher value for app users vs. non-app users. In addition, only 4% of app users have dialled down their gift despite making it easy to do so.

The product has received huge interest across the industry and in national press, it has a 5 star rating on the app store, it has won industry awards including the prestigious MOMA Grand Prix and it has received countless positive comments from its user base.