Curiosity is one of a UX researcher’s most valuable traits, but it’s also a vulnerable one.
Yep, despite what he did to the cat, curiosity can be quickly dissolved by a little knowledge.
Curiosity drives everything from the approach I take, to the way I frame questions during an interview, so having answers in my mind can work against me as I enter customer-land.
I’ve found it’s handy to have a few hunches in my back pocket, but when I’m trying to understand a customer – the less I know about them, the more curiosity I’ll need to find out.
Wary of this, I work hard to defend my naiveté, particularly during the early stages of a project. I’ll try to be selective about what information I take on the road, and what I leave parked in the office…
At kick-off, I usually help my clients brief a recruiter with criteria to fetch a representative sample of customers*. The recruiter provides a schedule and participant list with granular details of every participant - name, address and three contact methods will be their demographics, customer type, attitudes and attributes which were collected when they were screened. It’s an eye-bleeder, but part of the process.
During this process I invariably learn about customer segments, what they mean to the business and a taste of the client’s base level understanding of their customer. It gives some insight into each person I’ll meet, but I find it’s better not to know at this stage.
Start with a blank canvas.
To defend my curiosity, I pick only three of these details** to stick to the car dashboard:
- Time of appointment
- First name
I do this because…
I want to interview a person, not a ‘customer segment’…
Because I’m starting the interview with such minimal information, I let the customer paint me a picture which brings all those details the surface, and it’ll take every bit of my curiosity to draw them out.
It’s a small detail, but I believe this makes a big difference to the pace and direction of the interview.
For example – on my current project, we’re interviewing a mix of three customer types; subscribers, non-subscribers and ex-subscribers. All three are relevant and I don’t want to be pigeon-holing them in my mind before I’ve walked in the door, or for them to feel like ‘they’ve been picked for a reason’.
If I know she’s an ex-customer, a part of me will be wondering, “why did she cancel her subscription?” I’ll be looking for clues, reading between the lines and may draw this to the surface before she’s had a chance to fully describe her context. Or she might detect I’m on this thread and defend her reasons for leaving the service, which isn’t what I want to hear.
… so I prefer to go in ‘cold-turkey’, letting these details all come out ‘in the wash’ in the customers words as part of a natural, unbiased conversation. (at least, that’s the way I want it to feel for the customer).
There’s plenty of time for answers later, these are valuable and expected outputs of any design research project, but I’ve found NOT knowing the answer is the best possible position to be in when you’re heading into the field to interview and observe people interacting with your product.
This is part of trusting your instinct as a researcher, being comfortable with ambiguity and being ‘in the dark’.
Earlier in the year I wrote about how a Calligrapher / Monk / and Ex- Xerox PARC innovation researcher approaches these uncomfortable research situations: Humble pie, served on a bed of chaos.
…but he doesn’t mention being in the dark with a cold turkey?
*If you’re going to invest in spending some time with your customers, it pays to be sure your sample is representative of your customer base and represents the challenges . I believe this is worth taking seriously, and well worth paying a recruitment firm to handle for you.
**Sometimes I’ll add the age and/or gender of the participant. Gender is not always obvious from the name and in mixed households having a little more information helps you get your greeting right at the door.