UX Tea Break: Alternatives to field research in lockdown

UX Tea Break: Alternatives to field research in lockdown


Hello, my name is David Travis and this is
the UX Tea Break. In this episode I look at alternatives to field research. So this question comes from Jennifer Adam
and Jennifer said, “In my company, there is rarely budget and time to do field visits,
especially if they were just done the year prior with the same audience. How do you recommend
understanding users’ needs, goals and motivations without costly field research for each project?” I thought this was an interesting question
because I think a lot of us are in this position at the moment. Even if our companies will
pay for field research, one of the problems is if you’re in lockdown (so basically if
you live on planet Earth) it’s very difficult for you to go out and visit users at the moment.
So what could we do instead? Well first of all, I should begin by saying
that field research — going into your users’ context — is the gold standard. That’s really
what you should be aiming for. And that’s because context is like a skeleton key for
unlocking user needs. When you go into the users’ context you discover things that are
very difficult to find out any other way. Having said that, if we’re in a situation
as we are now, where it’s difficult to do field research, what can you do instead? So there are three ideas I thought I would
try with you that I think each of them add value. So first up you could carry out a diary
study. So with a diary study what you do is you ask users to literally keep a diary for
you: a diary describing how they go about embarking on the meaningful activity that
you’re interested in investigating. Now you can give them a paper diary to complete but
obviously there are digital tools you can use instead. So for example, there is one
digital tool called dScout which will run all of the sessions for you. But you don’t
need to pay a subscription service to do kind of diary studies. There are also apps on the
app store that you can ask your participants to download. For example DayOne would be an
example of that. I think Momento is another one. And both of those apps allow users to
enter text, to take photographs of their context, to make recordings as well. And they can create
kind of rich descriptions of the way they go about the meaningful activity that you’re
interested in investigating. So a diary study is one. Another alternative is to carry out interviews.
Now interviews can be problematic. And the reason they’re problematic is we’re often
asking users, with an interview, to remember things that went on in the past. And asking
people to remember things that went on in the past aren’t as good as asking people to
describe what they’re doing at the moment and observing their behavior. But there are
two ways around that, two different ways of running interviews that might help in that
situation. The first is a ‘Jobs To Be Done’ style interview.
So ‘Jobs To Be Done’ was a method invented by Clayton Christensen as a technique for
understanding consumer purchases. But it’s easy for us to adapt in order to understand
the way people go about living their lives and doing meaningful activities. So the way
it basically works is you run a cognitive interview. A cognitive interview tries to
put people back in the moment when they were doing the behavior. So for example, you’ll
say to people things that at first glance may not seem relevant, such as, “What time
of day was it? Whereabouts were you? Who were you with? What were you wearing?” Those kind
of questions. although they’re not relevant to understanding the activity itself, they
do help you put people back in the moment when they were doing the thing that you’re
interested in and understanding. Once you’ve got them back in that moment with the ‘Jobs
To Be Done’ interview what you do is you step back in the process. “What happened before
that? What happened earlier than that?” and you can also step forward in the process as
well. So the idea is it’s a very structured way of helping them recall certain experiences
that they’ve had. And there’s another technique that’s related
to that as well and it’s called user experience mapping. This was invented by some people
at GDS (Government Digital Services) in the UK. And with that particular technique you
ask people to do a similar kind of thing as with a ‘Jobs To Be Done’ interview. But now
what they’re doing is they’re writing each of those steps on individual cards for you.
Now this is a great technique if you’re interested in understanding an experience that happens
rarely or one that’s very difficult for you to observe live. So for example, let’s say
you’re interested in the experience of a motorist breaking down in their car. That’s something
that would be difficult for you to observe live. You can’t really recruit people who
are about to break down. But it is an experience you might be interested in and you can use
this technique for doing it. It’s similar to ‘Jobs To Be Done’ in that, in this instance,
you ask people to describe the whole experience to you from beginning to end. And then you
pick somewhere in that process — it doesn’t necessarily need to be the beginning but somewhere
in that process — you pick a point and you ask somebody to describe what happened. What
was the experience like? Was it positive or negative? Or what was that step like? And
then you ask them to go forward and backwards in the process as well. What’s important though
with this technique is you’re getting users to actually write down their experience which
means you’re capturing their words and their phrases and that gets you a little bit closer
to understanding what the experience was like from their perspective without you over-interpreting
what went on. So those three techniques — a Diary Study,
a ‘Jobs To Be Done’ interview, user experience mapping — are all methods you can use which
are much cheaper than going out doing a field visit. I want to emphasize again the gold
standard is to get into your users context — that’s where you really discover things
— but if at the moment you’re like most of us and you can’t do that you might find
those techniques useful. Well I hope you found that useful Jennifer. If you found it useful
please put a comment below and if you have any questions you’d like me to answer in future
Tea Break videos please post those below as well.

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3 thoughts on “UX Tea Break: Alternatives to field research in lockdown”

  • Thank you very much David. i have been using these mothods on accasion, depending on the context of the project and the amount and availability of users i can access.
    i have a question about the number of users or observations to do, especially if the research to distinguish diffrent user archetypes/ personas was not done. i understand we are not looking for statistical relevance and this is mainly qualitative. but if you have different markets/contexts/ user goals; how many users do you think is needed per method type(diary, JTBD, experince journey) ? again thank you alot

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