Design research, especially ethnography, means being right there with your customer while they interact with your product.
In my current project this means collecting stories from tourists in their campervans around a few of the hotspots we are lucky to have ‘Down Under’.
“Tough gig”, I hear you say…
…but we’re doing what the real anthropologists call ‘getting off the verandah’.
Design research on the road
We’re studying the customer journey of these rolling tourists via observation, and interviews at various stages of what is a highly-anticipated holiday experience. For some tourists it’s a ‘bucket list’ item – so under the surface of a relaxing holiday, the stakes can be high and the details matter.
The value of immersion
The tourist experience is in striking contrast to the patients I shadowed in hospital wards this time last year, where their situation was undesirable, unplanned …and the sooner it ended the better.
One aspect, though, is the same – the value of being immersed in their environment.
This value reveals itself immediately, demonstrating the closer you can get to experiencing your customers’ reality the better you’ll understand what matters to them.
Breaking the ice
Parking-up and staying in motor-camps moves us across an invisible, but tangible line. Somehow the ‘ice’ is broken for us when approaching our likely subjects, we’re seen less as nosey researchers – more as fellow travellers. This sense of ‘permission’ makes the vital first few minutes of an interview so much easier – rapport and empathy are built much quicker than I’m used to.
Research in context
By walking (well, driving) in their shoes, we’re also relying on the same tools they use, like maps, guidebooks, facilities etc. We’ve also fallen into the rhythm of the campsites, observing and being part of activities happening at different times of day / evening. All this context provides a vital frame of reference for everything we’re observing, and helps us relate to experiences described to us.
Sure, it would be more convenient to snaffle these customers at the tail end of their trip, herding them into an office to collect holiday anecdotes but the opportunity cost of missing out on those rich insights is too great.
…and it’s much easier to focus when you’ve had your eyes opened that little bit further.