Posted on | May 8, 2012
Every band needs a manager and a ‘roadie’. The manager books the gigs – The roadies set the stage so the band can focus on playing the gig. Between them, they’ve usually got a big truck full of kit, and lots of gaffer tape.
With design research (contextual inquiry or ethnography, if you like), there’s an amount of planning and kit required too – I’ve been running in-home interviews, playing both manager and roadie roles, but isolating these activities as much as possible from my role as researcher.
Every minute spent with a customer is valuable, so I can’t afford to be distracted by practicalities like recording equipment and timings.
After a few years experimenting with these practicalities I’ve arrived at a ‘toolkit’ of things in my backpack, so when I pull up at the customer’s house the ‘roadie’ can take a back-seat and let me get on with capturing the insights.
Here’s what’s in my bag:
1. Discussion guide. I try to keep this to a one pager with topic areas rather than ‘script’ like questions. I have the research objectives embedded in my curiosity, so by the time the first interview kicks off, this serves as prompts only. I’ll be completely free-styling after the first few interviews.
2. Livescribe Pen & Paper. Records every word and lets you playback what was said when you took notes or sketched.
I tape spare ink refills to the book, as they run dry with no warning after about 50 pages. I use the display on the pen for timing – it’s less obvious and distracting to check the time on here than glancing at your phone. If a subject seems interested in the pen (or any technology you use) take the time to explain what it does and why you use it, this removes the distraction.
3. Video camera. With 120G hard drive – not as petite as some, but changing memory sticks is one too many things to remember. (Also has SD slot for when I need to courier the footage)
4. Extension cord. (5m) for video camera – and a double plug (Who’s got an empty socket these days?)
5. Tripod. Compact, basic / amateur, goes up to about 1.2m and has a quick release mount for the camera in case I need to film some action out of the frame or from a different angle.
6. Laptop. With travel mouse. I use this immediately after sessions to type up my reflections while they are still fresh. I always drive a bit down the road first …best they don’t see you frantically typing about them from behind their curtains.
7. Schedule. Who, When, Where and sometimes demographics; age, segment, occupation etc.
8. Map. Hard copy with all participants located, named, numbered and time-stamped. This comes into it’s own when there’s a change in the schedule and you need to know whether you can actually shoehorn in a replacement participant and make it from A-B in the timeframe.
9. Cables, chargers etc. Including 12V in-car USB for boosting phone and livescribe pen while driving.
10. GPS / Satnav. Annoying voice, but the best alternative to a navigator. My favourite feature is the ETA. Let’s me know whether to put pedal to metal or not.
11. Smartphone. I use Alarm clock for when I can’t afford to run over the allotted time, Voice recorder to brain-dump my thoughts while driving between sessions, Camera & Maps as backup, Messaging for contacting participants for timing / directions etc.
12. Stills camera. As unobtrusive as possible. Must be usable by ‘feel’ alone (real buttons) and with one hand. Good as a secondary video camera too.
13. Rental car. Small & discreet – depending on the context, I sometimes park round the corner or out of sight of the address and appear to arrive on foot. …unless I’m in a rural area.
14. Cash incentives. In marked envelopes – for the participant’s time and involvement. Folding cash speaks everyone’s language – I try to avoid vouchers or direct payments. I always pay the participant at the start of the session and ask them to count the money too.
15. Receipts / NDAs. To be signed by participant. This keeps accountant and lawyers happy. I always include permission to video record session and detail the rights of use.
16. Smart/casual clothes. I dress up or down a bit depending on the topic I’m working with and neighbourhood I’m visiting – Dress smart enough to be credible, but not authoritative or superior in any way.
And the most important tools of all…
…but I’m all ears if you’d like to add to my list, or suggest how I might adapt for different contexts?