To unpack experiences ethnographic research is key. Context mapping, shadowing and observation, diary studies and generative interviewing are some of the techniques I use often.
Observation & Shadowing
Observation and shadowing can be used to learn about what people do. It can be very useful in unfamiliar (cultural) situations to understand activities as well as context.
I have used observation for a project in India to understand how people use their phones in everyday situations. In consultation with the client we narrowed down our observation scope to defined activities, such as cooking or meeting up with friends, in order to be more targeted.
When processes, user journeys & experiences as well as everyday life needs to be understood, shadowing can be used to view the world from the participant’s perspective.
The outcome of this research activity is often visual, providing the (entire) design team with insights, empathy and inspiration.
Video is often used in research to show different contexts or experiences. It helps convey emotion, combining words, expression, sounds and activity and reveals nuance and detail.
For the project 'Who Cares' we worked together with a videographer to film all our interviews and shadowing sessions as we wanted to create a design documentary to highlight and show real issues caregivers struggle with. This brought an extra challenge to the design research as the cameras would be rolling during intimate situations. We managed to gain the trust of participants by slowly introducing them to the camera as well as giving them some control on what they would like to show us. Most participants eventually forgot that the camera was on.
Because we often talk with participants about everyday situations, situations that have become their normal, it often is difficult for participants to articulate what makes their situation special. Therefor I like to use visual tools to make their ‘normal’ easier to explain in words and to share about their emotions, worries & fears but also about their dreams and wishes.
I have used diaries as well as other small homework assignments to prime users to a certain topic and to have them reflect on their situation before our interview.
This works well to quickly establish an interesting conversation as well as to break the ice at the start.
During interviews, I have let participants draw out situations, use images to convey emotions or create visuals with generative tools to help them articulate and think about their ‘normal’. The aim of using such generative tools is to have an in-depth conversation around the research topic rather than to create a visual.
When doing design research, it is important to include all parties in the research phase. This means that besides the main users you often look at the other people involved, family members, professionals as well as company stakeholders.
With all these stakeholders, the same methods can be used to gain a deeper understanding around an issue or problem.
It can be very eye-opening to have all stakeholders in the same room discussing a problem from their perspective.
Interviewing experts can also bring out new perspectives.