Best Practices for Conducting User Testing in Asia

by Yufen Chen


With one fifth of the world’s population, China’s market is divided into Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong and Taiwan are considered distinct markets within Greater China, as each have their own spoken and written language. Therefore, products looking to meet the needs of these two markets will have different creative, design, and language considerations. How these customers interact with your products or services from end-to-end can vary quite significantly between these populations and the majority that resides within Mainland China.

When choosing customers to sample from in Mainland China, four city tiers are often considered alongside other demographic, psychographic, and behavioral variables. Most brands choose to conduct research in Tier 1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing, so they get a sample of the largest and wealthiest cities; plus the cultural, political and, technology center of China. However, if the goal is to understand user experience across China and build customer personas, you might consider sampling from China’s other 10 megacities[i] to validate learnings from Beijing and Shanghai. Research on the competitive landscape and how it impacts the user experience must account for different distribution channels and customer access to products across urban cities.

Brands that want to be successful in China have been doing research in Tier 2 and 3 cities. Combined, these tiers have 6x the number of households in Tier 1 cities. In the last decade, many brands have also gone in Tier 4 and even Tier 5 cities to better grasp and map the customer journey.

Appreciating cultural and linguistic diversity is critical to successful data collection in China. There are five major dialectical groups that are mutually unintelligible and covers 200 individual dialects. Experienced Chinese moderators and translators will likely be fluent in two dialects and have no problems distinguishing between local access and comprehending native expressions (common Chinese idioms). For example, a southern Chinese person from Shanghai may often have problems understanding a northerner in Beijing when one speaks too quickly or vice versa. Participants can also be more sarcastic in certain cities over others. Use local moderators and translators whenever possible, particularly as you move beyond testing in Beijing and Shanghai only.

Allowing more time between interviews for mini-debriefs with moderators and translators is also helpful. Often, there is hidden meaning beyond the literal translation, so don’t be afraid to pause between sessions and ask if there is an alternative explanation. An experienced researcher in China will be able to explain the differences in expression, and identify if there is double meaning. Example, use of sarcasm versus someone politely “giving face” and avoiding direct criticism.

Finally, with analysis and recommendations, researchers need to consider that foreign companies are not allowed to wholly own companies in China, which then has an impact on product development and services. Global and regional stakeholders may have limited visibility and control over local implementation. So, whether you’re conducting a study to inform a product launch or market positioning, spend more time in understanding where the research needs are coming from. Particularly with multinational companies, understanding the makeup of your local, regional, and global stakeholder groups will help inform the types of recommendations that have impact and at which level. Otherwise, your recommendations may be interesting but fail in being “actionable”.

Partnering with a larger research agency can help to assure a sense of quality and a more familiar level of service for “new-to-China” companies. As a young industry in China, however, smaller research agencies are often more agile and able to produce research at a lower cost. Fortunately, a number of competitive options have increased dramatically over the last few years.

To identify potential partners, start by joining UXPA China (, which is formerly known as UPA China. Since 2004, this organization has early roots in user experience and can provide a rich network for global companies seeking local partners. The industry is still young and growing in China, providing greater resources for all companies looking to improve their experiences with Chinese customers.

Key Lime Interactive is a global partner with UX Fellows. For more information on conducting global UX testing with our team, email us at Not looking for a usability partner at this time? Email us to say hi, anyways.


[i] China’s megacities range from population sizes of 5-20+ million each



Global UX Research: How Do We Get the Most Out of Research in New Markets?

IMG_1029Global Research pros from Groupon, eBay, Google and Key Lime Interactive were seated on a panel at the International UXPA Conference event in San Diego in late June. They came together to share their words of wisdom for successful global user testing endeavors.

Their theme: Make it a priority to plan ahead AND be culturally sensitive/aware.

Infinite perspectives are available around the globe, spanning multiple languages, habits, patterns, cultural priorities, etiquette and more. The requirement to meet the needs of a diverse audience is clear, and with that comes diversity of your recruited panel. In a recent study that spanned four continents, Key Lime’s Eugenio Santiago, VP of User Research, noticed that the stakeholders in the research weren’t aware of the relevant needs of each country when they outlined their vision of a successful project. “That’s my job.” Eugenio stated. “I have to make sure that all of the nuances that organically associate with a culture are considered from the early stages of research design. I need to rely on strong in-country partnerships to bring the surface any minute detail that I may have overlooked.”

Key Lime leverages their UX Fellows global partnership for this. With a mission to make “international user experience and usability testing as easy and professional as domestic studies,” there are checklists in place to ensure success. Simple things ranging from proper power requirements, to considering the time of day you’re asking users to test, to understanding pace punctuality; customary greetings are all to be part of a successful testing experience.

Other panelists stressed the importance of building in time for debriefs and dialogue with all parties involved solidifies strong findings and reporting. The in-country perspective is invaluable when reporting user satisfaction.

When speaking with the audience, it was clear that international work was on the rise. Much of the feedback was that folks were already testing in a global setting, or in the process of preparing themselves for this leap. They happily walked away with what was the start of their own actionable checklist of considerations to be successful testing around the world. A few points to get you started as you build your own list: 

Consider Cultural Elements:

This goes beyond language. Customary greetings, pace, punctuality, and etiquette should be considered. For example: One panelist reported that during their first global foray they planned to field a study that investigated the way users interacted with a product in their homes in India. They created a study plan that included six thirty-minute home visits in a day, and presented it to their Indian Research Partner. He took one look and said “Oh no. Not possible.” Why? Because traffic wasn’t being considered. It was assumed that 50% of the day would be spent getting around, so three in a day was pushing it. Adjustments were made in advance vs. sweating it out; rearranging on the fly and failing to meet the schedule.  

Consider Technological Capabilities and Be Prepared: 

“You may run this exact study 355 days a year in NYC, but when you endeavor to replicate in a different country outside of the US on that one day, you can’t take the ‘little things’ for granted”, says Santiago. Wifi, power, keyboard setup, and a host of other things need to be considered. To overcome unforeseen challenges, the panelists advise to stay on the side of caution. “Backup web connectivity options if the facility can’t provide what you need.” Of course, there are times when that connectivity needs to be considered as PART of the test, but we need to do our best as researchers to isolate the technological variable to best influence design.”

Have a Contingency Plan: 

Eugene opened with a funny story about an awkward time when he experienced an in-country moderator and a client bang heads mid study. “My observation, even as a non-native speaker, was that these two had opposing viewpoints of the way this research was to go down, and they were making it known. By the end of the day I had to make significant changes to satisfy the client.” He had done his homework and let two other facilities and two other moderators know that Key Lime was in town testing, and that he may need their help if he runs into a pickle. That simple notification gave him an option to make a moderator change for the remainder of the study.  

Popular tweets during the talk #globalresearchpanel:

“Aha moment tips for global studies. Don’t forget your international power converters.”

“Schedule downtime to research when fielding for long 2-week periods.”

“Eugenio shares the importance of multi-tasking and using our partnership with @UX Fellows for global reach.”

@Google is experimenting with a new approach to shorten the study time since stakeholders want answers now.”

@eBay speaking about importance of translation and the challenge of emotional measures.”


More from the panel:

Anosha Shokrpour
With 5+ years of experience in the field at eBay Inc. for most of her tenure and now at Groupon, Anosha has a deep understanding of the international e-commerce landscape that spans across developed and emerging markets.

Donna Tedesco
eBay Inc.
Donna Tedesco is a Senior User Experience Researcher at eBay Inc. She has experience using moderated and unmoderated studies for global research while working for in-house research teams over the last 13 years.

Chelsey Glasson
Chelsey is a user experience researcher whose skills have impacted a wide variety of enterprise and consumer technologies at diverse companies including Google, Salesforce, Udacity and T-mobile. Motivated to help others avoid her early UX career mistakes, she often writes and gives talks on the topic of UX Careers.

Sin Lee Loh
eBay Inc.
Sin Lee Loh is a user experience researcher at eBay, currently focused on buyer experiences but previously focused on conducting research in Latin America and Russia. Sin most recently conducted ethnographic research in Brazil.

Eugenio Santiago
Key Lime Interactive
Eugenio Santiago is a ninja in user experience research helping the world’s most admired brands optimize their digital and product experiences. As Vice President of User Research, he manages the team of both qualitative and quantitative researchers. Eugenio has been recognized by clients for his ability to quickly spot patterns and provide actionable recommendations. Most recently, Eugenio’s focus has been in the areas of Mobile, Finance, and Retail while still maintaining a passion for sports and gaming.

A Ninja and a Novice walk into UXPA 2014….

By: Rick Damaso

I recently had the opportunity to represent Key Lime Interactive at the UXPA 2014 Conference in London. This was my first official conference representing Key Lime so I was a little apprehensive. I wanted to impress my bosses and contribute in any way I could.  As the new kid on the block I was feeling more than a little responsible for the trust and financial investment in my attendance. Adding to this self-imposed pressure was the fact that I was traveling with a UXPA veteran, self-proclaimed user experience Ninja and VP of Research, Eugenio Santiago.  (You can follow him at @TheLimeNinja).
Whether you are reading this as a UX novice or have 10+ years of experience in the industry, you know the benefits of attending top-notch conferences. Not only do you get industry training, the latest trends, best practice review, and team building exercises; you get those awesome little pastries that seem to be on every dining cart. Ultimately, it’s all about the networking. I’ve learned that the user experience community is a small one. It’s a tight-knit group of professionals with long standing histories and crossed career paths, which can definitely be intimidating to newcomers.  A pleasant surprise for me was the camaraderie and wonderful sense of humor we all share. Everyone is equipped with quick wit and good-natured jokes – most of which are aimed at web developers. Truth be told, I don’t know those jokes. It got me thinking…. What else I could learn before heading to the next conference? What tips could I share with you, the reader, on maximizing your experience at any professional conference? Here’s a few that come to mind:
As my university professor used to say, ”Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Have a list of target companies, vendors, and individuals that you would like to connect with professionally and personally. Most conferences will have a fan page on Facebook or a list of sponsors/attendees on their website prior to the event. Use that information to your advantage. It’s a great way to maximize the short coffee breaks between sessions. You may want to contact people in advance and set up a time and place to rendezvous and talk shop. Be sure to leave time in your schedule to allow for organic conversations. This is particularly true for training sessions where you’ll probably get to know your fellow attendees fairly well in a smaller group.
I wonder if the founders of Twitter ever envisioned their platform being utilized for virtual conference attendance? When used effectively, Twitter is a powerful tool to converse with speaker and other conference attendees, maximize corporate/personal exposure and start new business conversations. You can even schedule some tweets based on your planned itinerary. Be sure to follow the conference hashtag to extend your conversations beyond the conference walls.
Don’t be afraid of wearing the “new guy” badge. The organizers will literally put it under your name on your conference badge so you won’t really have a choice anyway. Own it.  There’s no reason to be shy. In fact, your “newness” is a great ice breaker. Everyone will be excited to see a fresh face. This is your opportunity to ask questions, stimulate discussions with panelists, and build equity amongst your peers. My advice for first time attendees, or for any professional looking to learn more about the UX industry, is to start a conversation whenever you find yourself in a crowd. Helpful hint: You are never “off-duty” while at a conference so be aware of who’s in the room during designated social hours. You might meet that industry player who you’ve been hoping to meet.
My theory going into my first big event with Key Lime, was that a novice and a ninja might look at a conference in very different ways. I imagined we would each have different definitions of a successful conference. As it turns out, our success metrics weren’t all that different. We each learned a lot during the five-day event, got some great tips to inform our research back at the office and met some incredibly smart people along the way.
After the closing keynote, I sat down with the ninja for a debrief. We compared notes and talked about some of most exciting takeaways. The ninja nodded at me and confirmed that we both had great experience. He had one piece of final advice for me. I eagerly pulled out my smartphone, ready to capture these final words of wisdom. He was going to give me the inside scoop. I was eager and thrilled to be a part of this secret knowledge. As he motioned me to come a little closer he said  “So rookie, did you hear the one about the web developer walking into a bar…..He didn’t like the table layout”