The day everything changed and adapting to a new normal

Gemma and her husband Kelby Garside

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Kelby Garside is co-founder and UX researcher at Use Ability (www.useability.studio), a family business that he runs with his wife and business partner Gemma. Use Ability is Malta’s first usability testing studio where we watch real people use your product, website, game or app to see what they think and find any issues with the usability that may affect usage, conversions and revenue

It was March 2020 and Use Ability was set to have its busiest month since we started the business a couple of years earlier. It was slow progress in the first two years – companies were starting to understand what usability testing was all about and just how useful it is seeing real people use your website and the insight that can give you. Everyone had begun hearing about a strange sounding virus that was spreading across China, at first it seemed very far away and then it hit Malta; we had nine cases, the children were sent home from school and that is when everything changed.

As a family we had just moved to Gozo and planned on travelling across to our studio in Mellieha. When Covid hit, so did the cancellations – clients we had booked in and our participants were not ready for this new unknown and the uncertainty that it brought.

Everything went quiet

Amid homeschooling our two children and converting the washroom into a temporary office there was a lot to think about. Other companies had started to downsize and no-one knew just how long, the newly classified as a pandemic, Covid would be around. We needed to save money and decided to move our studio to Qala, near to where we lived. We still had no idea what we were going to do and then the phone rang – it was Melita and a lovely lady on the other end asked, “could you run some remote testing for us”. Now, everyone that knows us knows that our default answer is “yes”. We pride ourselves in being your usability testing studio and use our experience to provide you with the right testing for your needs, and so we said yes.

Luckily when we originally set up our studio, we designed it in such a way that it was flexible enough to easily change things to be able to connect with our participants via video call. We stretched tech in all sorts of ways to be able to see their faces and what they were doing at the same time; we also found new ways to be able to share this live with our clients as though they were sitting there watching with us. Following on from our first experience of remote testing, with new-found excitement, more of our existing clients and several new ones decided to give remote testing a go and it worked; everyone was happy. We weren’t prepared to let a global pandemic keep us down and like a lot of companies discovered, the only way to survive was to adapt. To come out of this stronger you have to step out of your comfort zone and find new ways to reach your customers.

I mentioned new clients; one of the side effects of the pandemic is that more and more businesses are going online. The pandemic has boosted Malta’s digital landscape like nothing before – we have tested online grocery stores worried they might not be as good as their new competitors and hotel websites wanting to be top of their game when tourism starts again. Moreover, by offering live remote testing and new services like play testing and online tournaments, in addition to our existing services, we have also been able to attract new iGaming, e-commerce and finance clients from abroad.

Have we been fortunate? We listened to our customers and found ways to change and deliver new services to them. Remote is our new normal and there’s a new normal waiting for you too.

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