Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) - QRCA Views Magazine, Summer 2020
QUALITATIVE RESEARCH CONSULTANTS ASSOCIATION 29 prototype as a solution. Is this some- thing that people can use successfully? One thing that characterizes user research or UX research is a strong impulse to at least try to get out of the building, to get to people where they live, and to understand what that experience on the ground looks like. We want to answer these kinds of business questions that we’re all being faced with. Kay: What are some of your techniques for exploring the user’s world? Steve: It’s most important to go into their context, so to go to homes and workplaces. Sometimes we’re just having a meeting. We’re just having a conversa- tion. The research itself may not be about “show me what’s in your fridge” or “show me how you go through this task.” But even just being where people are, going to their office as opposed to asking them to come to my office, sets up a dynamic in the conversation where I’m there to learn from them. There’s a message you’re sending about how you are curious and trying to just be in their environ- ment and walk in their shoes, as they say. Of course, if you want to see their artifacts, see their tools, see their process, see what is there that you wouldn’t know, that you’d want to ask about, being there is essential for that. I like to have, probably the technical term is, “semi-structured interviews.” So, I have things I want to talk about, but I also let the conversation go where it’s going to go, a kind of balancing act between directing it and seeing what emerges. This is very much driven by my objec- tives, but very much reactive to what themes and topics get revealed, and what turns out to be important for this person. Conversation is the main technology —asking questions, listening, follow- ing up. That gets called a lot of things. Sometimes it is called “ethnographic research,” but I’m super nervous about using that term because someone will always tell you, “Well, that’s not ethno- graphic because of this, because of that.” So, I try to stay away from the methodology jargon, but talk about things like interviews or conversa- tions, or just being with people face-to-face. Try to be open-ended and let their story and context guide you in reaching the objectives you’ve come in with. Kay: How do know when you’ve gotten the full story? Steve: Oh, that’s the question, right? [laughs] I’ve fallen back on, it’s not a great measure but, this idea of spider sense, like “Spidey.” You have to hone that spider sense. The naïve researcher will ask a question, document the answer, and go on to the next ques- tion. In a great interview, it all comes out in the follow-ups. Hearing what is said and hearing what is not said. Often you ask a question and you get an answer to a different question. And so, you realize, oh, what you thought you were asking about, and what they heard, is different. That provides you an opening, an area to explore what their response meant and see if you can circle back to get to what you thought you wanted to learn. But it’s all this follow-up, it’s making trade- offs in the moment, what people don’t say, and how they respond. Sometimes they are hesitant or sometimes they are exuberant, so they’ll give you all these cues, a kind of energy, which is much better to see when you’re sitting in a room with somebody than when you’re on the phone or over a remote connection. You can deduce that so much better when you’re in the same physical environment with them. I always think about how you’re going down these trailheads. You have to keep thinking about, “Did you get to the end of that trail?” It’s almost like part of that spider sense is knowing in your head, “Oh okay; I got it, I am pursuing my own understanding, and I think I finally understand. If I wasn’t doing this interview, I could probably restate what I think is a small truth about this person, or the whole story, and you’re saying, yeah.” Kay: As you listen to the person, how do you know your understanding of their world view is accurate? Steve: You have to go into the whole interview being interested, letting go of your own need to have the world be a certain way. In all the questions that you ask, you are trying to use their language in the way you ask the question and to not introduce jargon. When they give you cues by the When they give you cues by the language they use, you incorporate that language in your questions. You’re setting up a dynamic with them where there’s some trust and where your questions are not putting your frame on things too much.