How can we conduct user research during a pandemic?

By Marieve Bouchard, June 4th, 2020

The current sanitary crisis has disrupted the world and most organisations are struggling to maintain momentum and stay the course. From a product development and innovation perspective, one can wonder is this is the right time to conduct user research.


Truth be told, understanding one’s audience has never been more important.

“It is even more important during these times to understand your client segments because they are generally in transformation.” says Daniel Leblanc, President and Co-Founder of Inbe, our partner in innovation and consumer studies.

People’s habits, concerns, perceptions and therefore buying criteria are no longer the same. In other words, consumers believe their lives have changed, reveals a study from Strategy Analytics that was conducted in the USA, UK and China.

And so, a delicate balancing act ensues with ever evolving individual and collective needs.

“We can no longer assume that we know our markets because the past is no longer indicative of the future. Hence, we must listen attentively to our client and validate the approach with them constantly.“ states Daniel Leblanc.

The strategy consists in developing an empathic understanding of how users perceive and interact with the product in a short amount of time. More precisely, we want to understand their current behaviours, objectives and needs and how these differ from what they were previously.


The onset of this crisis forced a pause as company leaders scrambled to address short-term impacts. Seeing as the duration of this situation remains unknown, we must adapt the game plan and remain reactive.

According to Daniel Leblanc: « Since the realisation that Covid-19 is here to stay, we are seeing organisations restart their innovation projects. Obviously, they do not want to fall behind the competition by suspending their innovation strategies for too long.”

The fact that most activity sectors are now facing more complex and restrictive rules that affect typical product development processes should not be a reason to forego critical research steps that have a decisive impact on the quality and benefits of the product. It is still of upmost importance that a product meets the user’s needs, as this is the foundation of a viable and profitable project.

To achieve this goal, one should adopt an iterative approach. By investing in multiple research steps adapted to a given product development process, we remain agile in the face of an evolving situation and are able to perceive change. The project can then be adjusted on a continuous basis and remain valid.

“The idea is to spread out research and validation steps. For example, starting out with understanding the market (usage, pain points, needs, etc.), then testing several preliminary concepts (winning attributes) and finally validating one or two detailed concepts by way of prototyping” recommends Daniel Leblanc.

To adapt the plan, we must evaluate the repercussions of the crisis on the project, since these can vary between industries and also relative to the nature of the product.

To what extent is the use of the product affected by the crisis?

How have the needs and behaviours of people changed relative to the product?

Research objectives
What do we want to know? What information will be a major deciding factor?

Is it urgent to uncover this information?

How can we collect this information?

To what degree are we open to change and able to adapt?

The important thing is to be conscious of critical variables and consider them in modifying the approach.


Depending on the project’s nature and context, it may still be possible to do in-the-field research while being cautious of respecting security restrictions. In these times of vulnerability, it is paramount to be safe and sensible when trying to ensure efficient research that doesn’t endanger the people involved in the process. There are multiple tools and on-line resources available to help contact consumers and reach research objectives.

When starting the project in the analysis phase, it is quite useful to leverage published documentation online (studies, reports, articles, conferences, etc.). This step is sometimes neglected because the correct sources of information are unavailable or simply for lack of time, but it is very useful. It can reveal the general state of knowledge about a subject that will provide a solid foundation moving forward.

During generation of ideas and concept development, digital tools are key in obtaining data from the users and interacting with them (interviews, polls, observations, etc.).

Daniel Leblanc observes: “Even if technologies were available previously, such as our Inbe tools, this crisis situation has forced a deeper adoption since it is no longer possible to physically meet with participants easily. We must be reactive and jump in!”


Measuring the impact of the pandemic can be done on a case by case basis.

It is best to revise the research plan by favoring technological tools and online resources. Above all else, remain agile using multiple and iterative research steps.

Despite the pandemic, it is possible to reach your audience. Whatever the conditions of your product development or innovation project, our team can help you make informed and adapted decisions!

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