How can a product team gain empathy for their customers and draw meaningful insights if they aren’t driven by their own curiosity?
I’ve been helping client teams to plan and conduct their own design research, ‘going ethno’ with small teams to meet and study their end users in context. Initially I had my reservations, (and many live on) but…
…it’s been a learning experience on both sides:
I generally encourage clients to ride shotgun with me during fieldwork. It’s an engaging way for them to meet their customers, get inside their heads and fall in love with their problems.
Increasingly these teams want a lasting version of design research goodness – learning how to do it for themselves – often as part of a broader move to a customer-centred mindset, and as a rule I’m all-for passing on my approach and techniques.
But where to start? I’m self-taught through running dozens of these projects without a scrap of training, or ever reading a book, so how should I go about passing this goodness on to my clients?
With a mild dose of impostor syndrome, I initially tried up-front ‘ethnography 101’ style coaching, role-playing, ‘primer’ exercises, guerilla research and even wrote ‘how-to’ field guides covering interview and recording techniques etc. – only to be disappointed.
So, why weren’t all these client teams as interested in their own customers as I was?
In search of a tutorial silver bullet and a way to get these clients into the right mindset, I’ve read, gifted, recommended, quoted and paraphrased from all four of these books for my clients:
These books are great fodder for the aspiring or even seasoned researcher, reminding you that what you do actually is ‘a thing’ …(and you can even call it ethnography) but having tried a few methods of ‘coaching’ I’m not convinced any amount of reading can move the needle on your clients’ curiosity-meter.
…in fact latent curiosity seems all-too-rare regardless how much permission and context you provide or how well you prepare teams upfront to ‘go ethno’.
Exposure to customer-world can ignite this desire to learn, but even well-intentioned members of a product team can fail to gain empathy with their customers or draw meaningful insights if they aren’t driven by their own desire to learn.
Yes, that glimmer of curiosity in your clients’ eye is worth more than all the ‘how to’ books ever published, and on these assignments, my goal is to bring that out in my client. Tossing the books aside, I’ve found it’s way simpler than I thought.
The glimmer of curiosity is a platform to build their skills on, and my response is to go with less ‘how to’ and more ‘let’s do’:
- Lay a few ground rules, (rather than a lecture or lesson)
- Dive into a live project. (something they care about, not a hypothetical example)
- Review and share learnings as you go.
- Fuel and follow your team’s curiosity.
It seems all the tips, techniques, handbooks and best intentions aside, it seems real world experience sorts the ‘men from the boys’ in terms of building this desire to learn.
…But the changing and unpredictable nature of peoples’ behaviours and now knowing what you’re going to learn is addictive, and the curiosity and drive to dig deeper can spread by osmosis. So if you’re in a ‘coaching’ role, show them the rewards and they’ll want to make the investment in learning the skills.
So… what about you…?
How have you managed to up-skill your clients in user research?
Has this been deliberate, at their request, or a useful bi-product of attending your fieldwork?
The books I read and shared from were:
Interviewing users. Steve Portigal
Practical ethnography. Sam Ladner
Talking to humans. Giff Constable
Practical empathy. Indi Young