Bowmast Visualising Design Research Journey Map

I’ll have what she’s having… (When visuals go viral)

It’s validating when clients see my research visuals elsewhere and ask for ‘The same, but for our stuff’.

It’s partly because they are social.

They get people talking. Especially when pinned up in common spaces (hello team kitchen).

And teams need tools to talk. These visuals become prompts for other business verticals or departments to wish for a specific view of THEIR customer’s world, or the same customer’s relationship with THEIR product or brought to life in a similar way. 

It’s almost a ‘When Harry met Sally’ moment and can happen within or between businesses. 

Got me thinking… so what other mediums enjoy a viral effect like this?

I’m picking film might be a contender, but do any other mediums gain such a response?

How do you build contagion into your outputs?

What’s made you want what they’re having?

If money talks, what does it say to a research participant?

A handful of cash used as incentives in design research.

NZ $50 notes, participant-bound. The bird on each one is a native Kōkako. Voted bird of the year in 2016. Ridiculous.

No, I haven’t won the lottery, the $$$ in the clip are to pay research participants. That’s business as usual for field research, and I’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in my time. It’s either cash or a voucher equivalent, and it’s always appreciated. 

It’s routine to pay research participants, but I believe the When? and How? of doing this can influence their behaviour. This is why I always pay participants with folding cash within Continue reading

Customer interview around a dining table in Tokyo, Japan.

Design research using simultaneous translation

Three seconds later – it’s like firewood.

This is the answer to the question – How do you interview people in a different language?

… A question I’m asked often.

When working in markets where English isn’t commonly spoken I use simultaneous translation. My client and I listen in English to a conversation in the local language. Translation is a skill I have respect for, and it’s indispensable for in-market customer insight work.

While a well-briefed bilingual interviewer interviews people in their local language, the translator relays the conversation in English through a mic and earbuds, delivering aural goodness on about a three second delay. Continue reading

Zane Lowe. Learned to listen.

Listening. How hard can it be?

Ask Global Creative Director at Apple Music, who says they’ve ‘really only just learned to listen’.

Zane Lowe has been described as New Zealand’s most successful music export, one of the UK’s top radio broadcasters and is now the creative force behind Apple Music.

Fancy. But as a professional listener myself, it’s the thousands of insightful interviews he’s racked up with artists that interest me. And what helped him learn to listen. Continue reading


Zoompathy. Coming to a research project near you?

One of the biggest points of value in conducting qualitative research – putting yourself in your customers’ context – has been wiped off the table, right when it’s most needed.

In a time where it’s never been more important to bring an understanding of people’s mindset, behaviour and expectation to bear on product development, while business and public organisations are rethinking service delivery for their market, I’m concerned.

I’m concerned those offering research as part of their service may default to the possible at the expense of the valuable. 

Context matters.

Those who’ve read my book will know how important I believe context, and ‘being there’ contributes to the quality and reliability of the work we do.

A couple of chapters in, I say this:


And among many others, I give this example:


… but right now, when researchers most need connection with people in their world, physically being there is a challenge.

Remote to the rescue?

Business continuity is important, and if there was ever a time for remote research, it’s now. Like many researchers working over the past few weeks, I recently had a project switch from in-person to remote – a dozen interviews via video – with valuable outcomes. I could see the tradeoffs, they were manageable, and I made sure the client understood these.

But I’ve started to see researchers and agencies announcing ‘we’re still open for business’ promoting remote-only research approaches, focusing on the benefits, but glazing over any of the tradeoffs.

Remote approaches have always been part of the research toolbox, though usually as a complement to in-person work or to add; reach, scale, frequency, specific types of participants or to include communities/individuals for whom this kind of connection works best.

However, just as speed and democratisation have influenced the shape of research opportunities – favouring a rapid over rich variety of empathy – I’m picking clients may get a taste for the convenience and economy of remote research without always realising what they’re sacrificing in terms of data quality and depth of experience which comes from being with the customer in the moment.

Yes, remote approaches will be a blessing to our collective practice for some time and it’s exciting to think of the creative approaches which will emerge from these constraints, but short-term reliance on research methods without explaining the tradeoffs may risk training our clients to accept what appears to be a more convenient option. As design-at-pace sometimes seems more user-scented than centered, we might see empathy be replaced by Zoompathy (I really hope this term doesn’t catch on).

So, now what?

I believe current constraints bring an opportunity to highlight the value of contextual fieldwork. But as we’re adopting and applying remote approaches where we otherwise might not have, perhaps we should:

  • Reflect on and amplify your experiences from the field. As anecdotes with colleagues, or in conversation with clients to maintain the status and value of face-to-face and contextual work. Steve Portigal’s growing collection of ‘War Stories’ offer plenty of fodder, but I’m picking you have your own.
  • Feel the edges of what works well, and what doesn’t. For different research questions, circumstances, communities and contexts,
  • Recognise the gap between being there and not. What’s missing, and what other ways might we fill it,
  • Acknowledge the limits as well as the benefits. Beyond the convenience of reduced budget and practicalities – into matters of access and inclusion, privacy, confidentiality, safety and scale.
  • Highlight inefficiencies or insensitivities we may have normalised though extensive international travel. Limiting unnecessary travel is a good thing for all our futures.
  • Discuss and document what you’ve learned. With your team and your client.
  • Share with the research community.  For example, Ex colleague Sarah Rink in Barcelona has shared a guide to remote research, written from a UX research perspective, talking through the challenges of capturing non-verbals and the inherent tech distractions.

Together, by remaining adaptable but sharing our learnings we can help remote become a more valuable part of the toolbox, while ensuring the undeniable value of in-person work continues to be used to best effect when this is once again possible, and for the situations it’s most appropriate.

Please add your experiences or any links to articles in the comments, we all stand to gain, especially our clients.

Remotely yours,



Kia ora Ōtautahi.

After 10 years living in towns with no traffic light, I’ve come full circle. Back to where it began.

My first NZ client was a hardware startup based in Christchurch. Their success with a niche product inspired me to launch my own product, Mr. Tappy, which I relied on Christchurch manufacturers and suppliers to prototype and launch, and to keep running today.

My patient experience work informed ward design for the new Christchurch hospital and inspired new ways of working I’ve enjoyed sharing with many clients and colleagues.

Meanwhile …over the years the bulk of my work pulled me further from the city, NZ and my family, while working increasingly internationally from Motueka.

Continue reading


Flipping the lens, and becoming Neil. [Podcast]

Cicadas chirping, cabbage trees awakening to a summer breeze and with the rest of the house emerging to another day of an island escape UX retreat, I was interviewed for a podcast by Chris from We Create Futures.

This was flipping the lens, because interviewing people is the basis for so much of my work, but now for the first time I was the subject.

And becoming Neil? … well, it’s not the first time I’ve been confused with a musician … Most people know me as Bomo, not Bono. But in his introduction to the podcast, Chris likens me to a Neil (Not Young or a Diamond).

You’ll find out which Neil, by listening online.

Or you can download it as a file.

Continue reading

Userpalooza car seat 760

USERPALOOZA! I wrote a book.

Yes, an actual book. Spine. Cover. Pages. Ok, it’s a draft in the photo, but …Somebody pinch me!

USERPALOOZA is a how-to for planning and conducting field research – to connect with customers in their context – to understand how they think and behave around your product, service or category.

…Because it’s easier to design for a customer you understand.

It started two years ago, when I wrote this sticky note and slapped it on my monitor:

This sticky note travelled with me during fieldwork. I couldn't escape it's call to arms. It won a two year battle of wills.

This sticky note travelled with me during fieldwork. I couldn’t escape it’s call to arms. It won a two year battle of wills.

The sticky note soon became a companion, a travelling and motivating call to action as I squeezed writing time into my working days.

Friends asked:

‘Isn’t that shooting yourself in the foot?’

‘Won’t people buy the book instead of hiring you?’

Continue reading

Safety in numbers during design research


On the edge of NYC in a sleeting-cold January storm, two colleagues and I arrived at a home visit with instructions to ‘go round back’.

Without going into detail, ‘round back’ did not look like a safe place to visit, and we made the joint call to bail out.

This was the first time I’ve abandoned a user research session, and I was so pleased not to be alone. In fact, had I been alone, I’m fairly sure I would have gone ahead out of duty to the client and the project, brushing off any safety concerns, despite what my instinct was telling me.

Continue reading

Breaking the wall in design research

Breaking the wall in Design Research

Film directors use a term to describe zooming out from the scene to deliberately demystify the production process.

This reveals backstage activity usually out of the frame, like the edges of the studio set, sound crew, equipment etc..

They call this ‘breaking the wall’.

Thanks to an ambitious client, and a two minute edit from a mountain of footage, I feel like I can do something similar, at least trying to answer some design research FAQs I’m often asked. In particular the approaches and practicalities of fieldwork. Continue reading