Eight years ago, Over the Shoulder was a little group of passionate qualitative researchers who saw smartphones becoming popular and got excited about using them to get to fresher, more powerful insight. “Riding along” on the smartphones we knew people would start carrying with them wherever they went seemed like an amazing opportunity to understand their reality better.

At the time, there were no other smartphone qualitative research apps, so we designed and built the first one and started using it. We still remember the thrill of seeing these amazing moments of consumer reality come back through the app and lead to new insights and ideas.

But to be honest, that first version of the Over the Shoulder app left a great deal to be desired.

Why? Because it wasn’t easy for participants to use. Here’s an example: If we wanted to have participants capture a video, we had to ask them to leave the app, go through their home screen, go to their camera, capture the video, return to the app, tap “upload,” then navigate to the video they’d just taken, select it, and then upload it. It could take up to 4 minutes and 22 “screen taps” to capture a one-minute video.

Happily, one of the first things we intuitively did as we continued to develop Over the Shoulder was to find ways to make it easier for participants to capture their moments and express themselves. The payoff was immediate and dramatic. Every time we found a way to make capturing a moment take fewer “taps” and less time, we could see that participants pulled out their smartphones more often, and captured more powerful and insightful moments. Our practitioner clients noticed and encouraged us to continue our crusade to achieve the perfect participant user experience.

So we doubled down. We dedicated ourselves to figuring out how to remove “friction” wherever it occurred in the app user experience - no matter how minor. We filled notebooks with personal observations. We got serious about collecting and analyzing user feedback. We white-boarded, wireframed, and re-imagined what was possible. And we tested and built the best ideas into the Over the Shoulder app.

Over the last 8 years, we conceived of and added 77 significant improvements designed to make our app user experience easier, faster and more intuitive for participants. As a result, participating feels more natural and takes much less time. Participants don’t have to leave the app or wait while a photo, audio or video uploads. Answering a  photo, audio or video question  happens with dramatically fewer “taps”. Instructions are clearer and more engaging, so participants spend less time futzing with the app, and more time sharing their reality. In short, we maniacally dedicated ourselves to making Over the Shoulder the easiest participant user experience in the business.

But why do we even bother? Why does an easy participant user experience make such a big difference? Two big obvious but important factors are at play.

First, the moments smartphone qual lets us capture are often short-lived (they’re called moments, after all). Capture these moments and you’ll often find great insight. Use a tool that takes too many seconds or too many screen taps and you’ll miss the moment - you’ll get their post-rationalization, not their reality. A participant can pull out their smartphone and be capturing a video within the Over the Shoulder app in about 6 seconds (or 5 “taps” on their screen). That means they’re often capturing the experiences that lead to insight AS THEY ARE HAPPENING. The “frustration moments” they’re journaling are captured while they are experiencing actual frustration and can “blurt” about it without overthinking. In-the-emotion is often where the insight is found.

The second reason we’re maniacal about participant user experience is that people have so little patience for apps that take too much time and mental effort. Market research apps are no exception. Here’s a bit of harsh reality…if you’re interacting with people through an app, people are comparing your user experience to Google, Apple and Instagram. They spend their time with the best-designed apps in the world, and if your app experience doesn’t measure up, you’re annoying them. So it wasn’t good enough for Over the Shoulder to be better than the other smartphone research apps that have followed us into the market. We knew we had to make sharing a moment through Over the Shoulder as easy as updating your Facebook status.

But the payoff for getting your participant user experience right is massive.

When your app lets people journal a “thirst occasion” for you and it actually takes people 30 seconds to do it, they do it more often and more reliably, and you get better data. Try the same with an app that takes participants 2 or 3 minutes to capture the same data and your participants will skip occasions.

When participants can capture a photo, a video and a few key multiple choice or text responses in under 60 seconds, they can do an amazing job of helping you understand the relevant moments of their lives. And they mostly have a great time doing it. If you allow friction in your participant user experience, they won’t engage as well, and you won’t understand as well.
So call us obsessed. But it’s in the name of getting better insight. And insight is, after all, why you’re doing research in the first place.