New in the A/V Room

How we revamped our A/V room to embrace remote user research

Author photo
Paige Guggemos
March 18, 2022

Gathering audience insights by talking directly to potential users is a key part of the product research cycle. That used to mean inviting folks into the office to conduct in-person interviews. These days, that’s not always an option. Last year, as the pandemic dragged on and product teams across the globe moved to remote user testing, we saw an opportunity to invest in our research setup. We developed a stack of tools that are friendly for our researchers, participants, and observers to use from the comfort of home (or wherever their preferred remote setup might be). We wanted to find tools that worked well together and allowed us to connect with people across the United States. 

Our remote Usability Studio setup did not arrive fully formed. On our quest for the ideal remote process, we tested a range of platforms and considered a variety of approaches for conducting unmoderated and moderated studies. There is a growing pool of incredible tools available for these types of studies, each with its own specialties. Early on, we were fortunate to stumble upon User Interviews, a complete solution to source, connect, and pay participants all in one platform. It’s the perfect companion to any other tool in our remote kit.

We weren't alone in this quest for the ideal remote testing setup. According to User Interview's State of User Research report, "77% of researchers worked remotely last year [2021]." 

As it turns out, Remote studies have their own set of awesome benefits. For starters, remote sessions can be incredibly cost-effective, efficient, and allow researchers to connect to a much wider audience pool than just those who could commute to the researcher’s designated location. Remote sessions also offer high-quality recording and simple tools for documenting sessions. While there are still plenty of compelling reasons for conducting audience research sessions in person, we knew that remote testing was here to stay and have fully embraced this as a primary audience research method. 

One of our preferred testing methods is the moderated interview, which is the type of study where a researcher will connect with a volunteer participant over a video call. Our video conferencing platform of choice is Lookback because of its impressive functionality, including a highlight feature that makes reviewing and archiving our research sessions a breeze for this type of study. Think Zoom but with highlight reels. To pair with the remote sessions, we also refined our systems for using collaborative brainstorming and note-taking tools like Miro and Airtable. These systems enable us to share feedback whether we observe research sessions together or asynchronously.

Example of a remote Miro workshop board for Foundry's Bike Around app: Shows a digital whiteboard with lots of individual pages of stickies and collaborative content for mapping user feedback including interviews, synthesis, problem statements, empathy maps, and journey maps
Example of a remote Miro workshop board for Foundry's Bike Around app where researchers and observers can collaborate to capture and share insights

Once we had our software dialed in, we moved our focus to creating a studio space. As we transitioned back into the office, we knew that we wanted to create a space that felt like the perfect home base for our researchers to conduct remote sessions. With much of our team still working remotely, we knew we wanted a comfortable, simple studio solution that we could replicate anywhere.

What does that take exactly? Here is the wishlist we developed:

  • Private, noise-free space for the researcher
  • Comfortable chair & desk
  • External monitor, keyboard, and mouse
  • Laptop stand
  • Great lighting
  • Ports and cords that make for quick and seamless transitions in and out of the space (skip the Bluetooth connections)
  • Good A/V equipment: camera, noise/canceling headphones, headset 
  • Welcoming background (plants, couch, clutter-free, etc.)

Finding the room was easy. Everyone in the office seemed to be drawn to this large conference room on the "quiet" side of the office designated as the “A/V room”.  This room was already aptly named to house Kurt's podcast, Schmidt List. It’s also a beloved spot to take video calls or brainstorm ideas from the comfy couch. It seemed like a no-brainer that the A/V room would also work perfectly as the home base for our remote Usability Studio.

Product Designer Lucy Hinton using the remote Usability Studio.  There's a woman in a corner of a room wearing a headset talking to a person on a video call.  There's furniture including an orange chair and a plant in the room with dark walls. The door has a sign that says "A/V" in big, bold letters.
Product Designer Lucy Hinton using the remote Usability Studio

With the space secured, we got to work taking over a corner of the A/V room.  A task force assembled to review, order, assemble, and test the rest of the gear from our wishlist.  With the new setup, any researcher can swiftly connect (or disconnect) their laptop to the research station and hop on a secure call with a research participant from anywhere in the world and look great doing it. This is largely thanks to two critical pieces of technology: the CalDigit TS3 Plus Thunderbolt dock for connecting and powering a laptop at the workstation with a single cable and Lume Cube Broadcast Lights for illuminating our wonderful researchers

The team quickly adapted to the new setup, which made for some very happy researchers. And you know what they say, "Happy researchers, happy life," (I'm almost positive that's the saying).

Foundry Product Designer's Lucille Hinton and Jonathan Kaiser demonstrating a remote user interview call. Lucille sits at the remote Usability Studio station, talking to Jonathan via a video call with her interview notes and script open. There are lights, a keyboard, mouse, laptop, external monitor, and cords on the desk. She wears a headset.
Foundry Product Designer's Lucy Hinton and Jonathan Kaiser demonstrating a remote user interview call