Category Archives: Design ethnography

Ethnography-in-China

Deer pizzle ethnography (Part 2)

(For the back-story, read Pizzle Part 1)

As I stepped through the door with a “Ni hao”, I watched all my norms float out – the way I came in.

When I say norms, I mean the usual ingredients of a successful field visit.

In my world, in-home visits always start with (and rely on) a crucial few minutes of rapport building. And there are usually just two of us visiting the customer.

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Chinese medicine vendor catching some zzz

Deer pizzle ethnography (Part 1)

Yes, it’s a two-parter. Here’s the main course.

I’d heard of nose-to-tail eating, but apparently there are parts of certain animals which do more than provide nourishment…

Yep. I’m talking about Pizzle. (Deer dick – ick!)

One of the great benefits of operating from New Zealand comes in the shape of exposure to the diverse range of niche products we export.

So when a large-scale deer farmer and venison exporter came knocking, I jumped…

…but this time higher than usual.

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Video diary study highlights screening

Capture the moment with video diary studies

Two and three at a time, 25 diary study packs arrived back by courier – this time containing not just logbook and photos but a video camera – 300+ self-recorded clips from selected moments during the previous week.

I had no idea what to expect from the video, but very quickly began to wonder why I hadn’t done this before?
Yep, after watching the first few clips I had struck ethno-gold by using video-selfies in a diary study project.

Diary studies are great for capturing interactions with a product or service which play out over time. I’ve tended towards keeping things old-school with paper based diary studies followed by exit interviews and always been pleased with the results, but after adding video to the mix, it’ll be hard to look back from here.

What resulted was a raft of in-the-moment, rich and raw footage offering an intimate, personal perspective which unfolds beautifully over time. With clips from different times of day, contexts etc. you really get a feel for the way the person’s week went and feel somehow more connected to their mindset during each interaction or moment they documented.

workshop ladies with wayne

Self-shot video combined with stills and printed verbatims combine to provide a powerful platform for conversation.


Here’s how the project unfolded, and a few things I learned along the way:

How to capture the footage?

We looked at a few options, with our main goal being to keep things as simple as possible for the participants capturing the data, and us wrangling it later.
We considered using their own phones, setting up video blogs, and even using managed services like www.watchmethink.com, but we needed to move fast and to have control over the technology and format, so opted for buying a fleet of cameras. No guesswork!.
We went for fairly basic and compact point-and-shoot cameras with HD video and of course stills too. Looking back it’s hard to think of a cleaner, simpler way to go about it.

Setting up the diary packs:

Diary study laid bare

Camera-CHECK, Charger-CHECK, Logbook-CHECK etc….

We put together 25 identical packs, containing;

  • Camera with stills and video capability.
  • Intro sheet – describing the objectives of the project and where the participant fits in.
  • Idiot-proof instructions on how to use the camera – recording video, charging etc.
  • Guidelines on some types of moments to capture with video.
  • Log book and pens, with a mix of simplified multi-choice checkboxes for recording the what, where, when, and how, plus an open text field for the why?…which is what we were most interested in.

Keep it loose.

The last thing you want is a participant thinking twice whether the thing they think is important will be useful to you, so don’t be too prescriptive with your suggestions of which moments are worth capturing.

I had figured on filming a sample clip to give people an idea what I was looking for, but am glad I didn’t as our sample exercised their creative freedom to capture some surprising moments in ways and from contexts we never would have imagined.

We let our participants decide themselves which moments were important / relevant to them. This seemed a little ‘open to interpretation’ but paid off in spades as it revealed key differences between individuals – super relevant to our study.

Unboxing and setup.

boxes and packaging

Allow several hours for getting the cameras ready. (I completely underestimated this).
Next time I’d make this a two person production line – opening boxes and packaging, charging batteries, prying SD cards from impenetrable plastic shells, printing info sheets, numbering and assembling all the kits.

sd cards clipped

Come face to face with consumer guilt as you unpack all this guff.

If you’re of the green persuasion, perhaps go plant a tree afterwards to get over the consumer guilt of dealing with all the packaging. Ok, better make that two trees actually.
Set up every camera the same, particularly the video capture resolution. This saves handling different image formats during editing.

Test pilot.

Absolutely DO Run a pilot. Ask a friend or two to follow your instruction sheet to shoot a couple of clips. You’ll quickly discover where more information, (or less) is needed in your supporting material.

Say what?

Get creative with your prompts, but let your participants do their own thing too.

Get creative with your prompts, but let your participants do their own thing too.

We put a sticker next to the lens with some very loose prompts to help our participants get to the ‘why?’. We did this after the pilot session and it worked a treat across the sample.

 

Packs away!

Include your contact details in each pack, on the camera if you can, so participants can let you know if something’s up. I’ve been contacted on every diary study I’ve done.

Also, a day or so after they’ve received the pack, call the participants to make sure they are in the groove with what’s expected of them. Keep this call short, a minute or two should do the trick.

Primed to share.

I’ve found diary study data is pretty bland on it’s own and the real flavour of the individual comes through in the exit interview. Somehow the act of logging their actions raises participants awareness of their intentions and behaviours. While there may be some downside to this, I believe this ‘priming’ opens some doors in their mind, making for deeper and more valuable, access-all-areas exit interview conversations.

Say vs. do.

I like to think I’ve got a great bullshit detector, but hearing participants speak in retrospect about their behaviour during the week, and comparing that to the self footage was a good reminder that what people say they do and what they actually do can be very different. For this reason, be sure to watch some of the footage before the exit interview, and even better then watch it again without he participant. They might even surprise themselves.

Pulling it all together.

clips in window

With so many clips to sort through I key-worded the file names to remind me what they contained.

How to handle and share all that footage?.
From the 300 or so short clips I weaved together a carefully edited highlight reel of a few dozen ‘moments’ from the video-selfies. When combined with snippets from the exit interviews, this offered a colourful and authentic ‘voice of the customer’ narrative as a ‘week in the life’ unfolded across many contexts.

Being there in the moment.

I’ll definitely be doing this again, but welcome any other techniques for getting into people’s lives when it’s just not possible to be there in the moment. I know there are other ways to approach this, so please hit me with your top tips in the comments below…

Or go ahead and record a selfie?

diary close up

Smartpens are such an essential item in my kit, I've got a few for when a team hits the road.

Use a smartpen to free your eyes and mind during UX research

Two eyes, two ears and one mouth –

…We’re all born with these essential three tools for user research.

The proportions are about right too. …until your eyes get busy looking at the notes you’re taking rather than observing behaviours and maintaining eye contact during the interview.

If you’re a solo researcher, electronic eyes and ears are useful too, but it’s a depressing reality that from one hour of interview footage there may only be a few minutes from the recording that are used to frame your insights later.

When you’re listening, thinking to yourself “this stuff she’s saying is total gold” the best case scenario is to be able to quickly find those nuggets when you’re back in the office… which is entirely possible if you take notes like this:

If you're taking notes like this AND trying to interview someone, you're missing the point.

If you’re taking notes like this AND trying to interview someone… you’re missing the point.

Capturing verbatim notes comes at the cost of having an only halfway natural conversation. This is why despite experimenting with many approaches and technologies, I keep coming back to using a smarten to take notes during fieldwork, or even usability testing products.

A smartpen lets me focus on the conversation, then just nip back to highlighted moments later. It records audio as you scribble, synchronising the audio to the marks you make on the page.

This frees my eyes to pick up on body language, expressions and mannerisms, and think about where the conversation is going … meanwhile, I’m highlighting key moments in the conversation, for quick and easy recall after the session. Having the exact wording wrapped in the tone of voice from the moment, at the tap of the pen is simply brilliant.

Knowing you’ve got full ‘recall’ from the pen means you can take notes as detailed or skimpy as you like, so over time I’ve adjusted my notes to the bare minimum. Most of what I write is written without looking at the page, except for a quick initial glance, so I’ve adopted a ‘shorthand’ note-taking format of keywords and symbols:

These spirals tell me where to tap to go back to the magic moments

These spirals tell me where to tap to go back to the magic moments

I scribble squiggly circles next to key words according to the ‘weight’ of the moment, in the moment. More circles means more emotion / intensity etc.

I might write down a short quote if I can do so without any interruption to the flow, but I’m much more likely to jot down a keyword or phrase as the person is talking, holding their gaze while drawing a star or squiggle etc.

These marks are my visual shortcuts to audio moments

These marks are my visual shortcuts to audio moments

In an ideal world I don’t take notes at all. I film the whole session and transcribe it while reviewing the video footage.

This allows total focus during the interview and is a great way to re-immerse in the moment, but it can be a painful trawl through the footage to pin-point those moments or killer quotes for an edited video.

So my new default is to get the smarten AND the video camera rolling at the same time.

As I’m going back to ‘tap and play’ my notes, I can read the time code from the little screen on the pen. Having this time code makes a total doddle out of pulling together a ‘highlights’ clip from acres of footage.

Tap - and Boom! you're back in the moment to the nearest second.

Tap – and Boom! you’re back in the moment to the nearest second.

Best of all – knowing all the goodness is being captured and I can cherry-pick the best bits later means I’m able to relax during the interview and build real rapport with the person, and frees up my eyes to do their job.

At the end of an hour of interviewing, I might have 2 or max 3 sides of pretty scrawly notes on an A4 pad with a couple of dozen scribbly dots of different sizes, some underlined words, maybe some little sketches or doodles .. and it’s all time linked to audio.

Nobody could understand the notes but me… but it just so so rich with the audio accompaniment.

Weeks later you can go back and re-listen to a particular utterance at the drop-of-a-hat. Tap, listen, bingo…

I’m obviously sold on this, but would really love to hear…

How do you handle the dual task of note taking and interviewing when flying solo during in-home customer experience research?

Meanwhile, I’ve got my Two, Two and One… plus the smartpen.

The one I use is called a Livescribe , and in the 5 years I’ve been using them they’ve developed a raft of additional functionality, but I literally only use the pen to record and playback, but if anyone’s found a reason to use the extra wifi whizz-bang, I’m all ears.

Curiosity-tablets

Ethnography. Only the curious need apply

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:

curiosity-book-covers-455

If in doubt – consult your manual?

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’:

  1. Lay a few ground rules, (rather than a lecture or lesson)
  2. Dive into a live project. (something they care about, not a hypothetical example)
  3. Review and share learnings as you go.
  4. 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

Respect, instinct and bedside manner – My patient experience toolkit.

Interview

Design research in a hospital environment is super rewarding. You’ll reveal a wealth of insight and opportunity to improve patient experience but face some unique challenges, especially when interviewing patients at their bedsides.

With a few of these projects under my belt it’s time to share, in case you’re ever in the humbling position to do the same. (yes, more humble pie)


My top tips for patient experience research:

Instinct:

This work will squish everything you’ve got in your soft skill set. You’ll be relying on your instinct for what’s ‘right’ and ‘polite’ in the circumstance. I think doctors call this ‘bedside manner’ …you’re going to need a good one.

Respect and empathy:

visiting-hours

Be considerate – happy hour or not.

It goes without saying to be sensitive to this context.
You’re asking people to share their thoughts or story when out of their comfort zone and feeling vulnerable, emotional, philosophical or all of the above.  Try to relax patients – make them comfortable, offer to top up their water, pass things, adjust curtains, charge their phone.

Authentic moments:

I prefer to ‘cold call’ on patients at their bedside, inviting them to share their experience on the spot. This lacks the certainty of ‘appointments’ but adds in-the-moment authenticity you simply don’t get if you give people the chance to collect their thoughts and arrange themselves in advance.

Mood-reading:

A chatty, social ward is a good place to find stories.

Each ward or room has it’s own atmosphere, from patients trying to sleep while machines gently beep, through to chat and laughter of visiting families. You’ll need to quickly read the mood and adjust your tone and approach to suit. Pick a lively, social ward and you might find patients are more willing to participate. (but beware of the bias this introduces).

Occupational hazards:

While you’re building empathy for each patient’s circumstance and viewpoint, some of their emotional load will shift to you by osmosis. This is a sign you’re doing a great job of listening, but be ready for emotional exhaustion at the end of each day.
To avoid becoming a patient myself, I start necking immune boosters and vitamin C the week before this work and wash your hands frequently during each day.

Introductions – Staff:

It’s essential ward staff know who you are, and what you’re doing in their working space. I’ve always had a chaperone who’s known and trusted by the staff introduce me and the project objectives. Without this, nurses will be suspicious of who you are and what you’re up to.

Introductions – Patients:

“Hi, I’m Nick, and I’m not a doctor”

Patients will assume you’re clinical staff, a specialist, or coming to discharge them, so get any expectation out of the way as part of your greeting.

Leaderboard

Ward staff will point you to the most appropriate patients to talk to, and those to avoid.

Ask staff to suggest which patients are appropriate, and not appropriate to approach. This can save embarrassment for you and patients if they are not completely ‘with it’.

Interviewing:

Maintaining eye contact and looking for non-verbals is essential in this context. You’ll need to record each interview and review later, or bring a note taker.
If it’s your turn to take notes, sketch-noting works very well for feelings, emotions, environmental factors etc. and is super easy to socialise later.

Patients love to see what all that doodling was about, and usually and valuable comment.

Patients love to see what all that doodling was about, and will elaborate on aspects given the chance.

Here are my top tips for sketch-noting during an interview:

Follow-up:

Ask for permission to interview the patients after discharge in their homes. The in-context interview will be revealing, but you’ll hear a different perspective and mood when they reflect on their in-ward experience.

Kit / recording:

Cameras are an even bigger distraction than usual on a hospital ward, so if you’re filming interviews (and it can be very compelling footage in this context) conceal your camera until you have each patient’s permission to film.

Clear audio is a priority.  Patients in a shared ward will tend to whisper out of respect for privacy of others, or so as not to be eavesdropped. Go for a wireless lapel microphone or at least a directional one.

The contents of my bag when I hit the road on an ethnography / contextual inquiry / design research

The contents of my hospital kitbag are sparse compared to this lot for home visits. (image from my article in link below)

Check out my article ‘Ethno unpacked –  A design researcher’s toolkit‘ for details of the gear I use.


Oh, and one more thing…

 SMILE

The more I work in this context, the more I feel like a newbie, and there’s much more to learn.

What have I missed?

What are your experiences?

Games people play during user research

How and why I use games as ‘tools for talking’ during fieldwork interviews…

User Research TechniquesA couple of universal truths stand in the way of discovering what people actually think and do:

What people do and what people say are rarely the same.

Equally, what people think, and what they say are very different.

Annoyingly, but reliably, these rear their heads during customer interviews and ethnographic studies – the two main methods I use to gain insights from people.

In practice they work like this:

Customers will alter their behaviour if they know they are being watched, This is known as the ‘Hawthorne effect‘.

And they’ll most certainly have a self-edit running while they are being interviewed, so they’ll tell you the things they think you’re wanting to hear.

Apart from a pretty strong ‘bullshit detector’ and the ability to read between the lines I use ‘games’ to get around these conflicts.

I make simple activities – prompts with words and pictures – for customers to arrange right in front of me.

These help customers express perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, emotions and preferences. Uncovering ‘the why?’ behind these, bringing a richer, more accurate picture to the surface.

Most commonly I use a variation of one of these:

Journey.

Plotting a sequence of events or process by placing items in the order they happened. I often have the participants add a series of ’emotion cards’ to highlight highs and lows etc.

After a mad-dash of shopalongs in a retail CX project, this participant maps the highs and lows of her experience.

After a mad-dash of shopalongs in a retail CX project, this participant maps the highs and lows of her experience.

For this home buying study I've used yellow and blue cards as positive and negative emotions. Top marks to this participant for serving cheese and crackers!

Here I’ve used yellow and blue cards as positive and negative emotions. Top marks to this participant for serving cheese and crackers!

Grouping.

This is a bit like a ‘card sort’, but less about categorising and more about arranging by value, importance, usefulness etc.

Design research card sort

Here I asked customers to sort services by value to them – ‘could have’, ‘should have’, ‘must have’ and ‘deal breaker’ – Explaining their choices as they went.

I gained great insight for a retail interior design project by asking customers to arrange images of retail environments.

Mapping.
Working out which goes with what. Great for understanding why people make certain choices.

Customers here were able to map services to their preferred channel. Note: I've included 'It depends' as an option. Because sometimes, it just does.

Customers here were able to map services to their preferred channel. Note: I’ve included ‘It depends’ as an option. Because sometimes, it just does.

As you can see, the materials are bespoke to the project, and I take great care to plan them, keeping them to a manageable number (you don’t want to spend more than 15 mins on an activity like this)

So, here are my top tips:

It’s not data.
These activities are all about the conversation, not collecting data.
There may be some patterns in the arrangements, but on face value they are nowhere near as useful as the thoughts they helped elicit from the customer.
I might photograph the final arrangement, but the real value lies in what the customer has shared in describing it, justifying their placements and what this means to them.

Kickstart a conversation.
Many times I’ve had a conversation go from prickly to fluid around these activities, so it can help break the ice. Perhaps some people are more comfortable with ‘something to do’, during the interview. The customer will visibly relax, letting me into their stream of thoughts, where I want to be.

How to facilitate?
Depending on the person and the topic, I sometimes leave them to complete the activity on their own, making a mental cache of their movements, then reflect on these afterwards, or I’ll have them talk me through every step, (known as ‘think aloud‘ in usability world).

Either way, when I can literally hear them thinking, it’s a good time to prompt them for their thoughts.

Be a ‘thought sniper’.
You’ll want to seem ‘distanced’ from the subject, (they might feel like you’re watching them with one eye as you pretend to check your twitter feed) but you’ve got your sights on their every move.

Watch for the pauses and hesitations, confidence in placement of cards.

Underlying these movements are the nuances which, when expressed verbally, can reveal the kind of insights you’re looking for.

Freestyle.
Always include a few ‘blank’ cards and have a pen handy. You’re unlikely to have covered every eventuality or option in your set of cards, so let customers make their own.

Try to have the activity on a sheet of paper, so customers can draw rings around groups, links between items etc.

What have I missed?

There’s no way in the world I’m the only person who uses these techniques, so if you’ve got something to add, please add it in the comments or send me an example and I’ll add it to the post. Thanks!

Context is everything, even in a motorcamp

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.

design-research-map

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.

design-research-tags

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.

Dream design research projects from 2013, Part 2

The second half of the year was no less exciting with client work, but was boosted by the buzz of my own product hitting it’s stride in the market.

From July to December: Home brewing, TV, Mr. Tappy and Motorhomes.

Here goes…

5. Craft brewing insights

Location: Portland, Oregon. Micro brewery capital of the world.

Client: imake / (Part of the Better by Design programme).

Portland is the world’s capital of micro breweries and craft brewers. Visiting with imake’s team from NZ, Australia and USA, we stepped inside the garages, basements and minds of craft brewers, aiming to understand what makes them tick, and how they approach brewing.

My role as part of Better By Design is to help build design capacity within NZ export companies like imake. In many cases this starts with understanding customer needs, so getting out in the field like this was a perfect first step towards customer empathy.

In Oregon, I briefed the team on how to get the most from contextual interviews, supported them in the field, then coached them through collaborative analysis.

A deep dive into brewing culture, but my satisfaction came in that it was the client team who drew out the insights and identified opportunities for marketing and product development.

6. How do you view?

Client: SKY TV.

Location: Around NZ.

A classic contextual study in homes around NZ to understand how TV fits into people’s lives and how? / when? / where? / why? they get their fix.

Having run studies like this for BBC and SKY in the U.K. back in the late noughties it was super interesting to see shifts in consumer expectation and behaviour. Back then it was ‘time-shifting’, now it’s ‘omni-screening’. From devices to content sources, this felt like a ‘snapshot in time’ in the dynamic landscape of TV.

Insights from this project fed into new product development and an upcoming redesign of SKYTV.co.nz.

7. Tapping into the mobile market

Client: My alter ego – Mr. Tappy.

Location: My kitchen table, and 30 countries.

Yes, from kitchen table to global tech giants in 2 years and just 700 easy steps.

My side-project, Mr. Tappy, (a product I’ve developed to help film people interacting with mobile devices) continued to surprise me with sales to the point where I can nearly hear myself blush when I see my list of customers.

Taking this product to market has been a humbling learning curve for me. Even when working alone I find myself being design, marketing, sales, distribution, customer service, etc., discovering how easy it is to work in silos and lose customer focus – Something nobody can afford to do, especially when your customers are expert product evaluators.

Having ‘skin in the game’ has resulted in greater respect for my design research clients‘. Running day to day operations, and shipping product is challenge enough let alone keeping an eye on customers. This first hand experience helps me understand my role as a design researcher with each client.

The entire product is made right here in NZ (some in my home workshop) and the next iteration will ship with a purpose designed HD camera.

8. Living the dream, via your own motorhome

Client: Tourism Holdings.

Location: Australia and NZ.

We’ve all been stuck behind one on a hill on the way to the beach, but what’s it like to buy a home, and a vehicle at the same time? We set out to find out.

I worked alongside Ed Burak, THL’s lead experience designer to provide research muscle on a project around motorhome sales. Motorhome buyers are a fairly relaxed bunch, usually at retirement age and with some time on their hands, but buying one of these rolling holiday homes is not always a holiday.


From a few dozen interviews with owners, buyers, salespeople and experts, we poured our insights into a customer journey map highlighting parts of the buyers’ journey where the experience could be improved.

… and as you’ll see, some of my illustrations  for the journey map were verging on the autobiographical. Yes, the waves were always like that in my memories.

…What’s next?

All the talk of holidays and time away was perfect timing for the end of 2013 and inspired me to use the caravan (which was once my office) a few times over the Christmas period. Good timing.

If you missed my previous post, here are the first four dream design research briefs from last year.

Dream design research projects from 2013, Part 1.

Be careful what you wish for.

When I moved from design into design research, I dreamed of projects like these.  2013 was the year they arrived.

Contexts ranged from hospitals to homebrew, motorhomes to mobile devices, television to truck driving.

I was repeatedly humbled and surprised by the people I worked with, both research subjects and my client collaborators.

As much as I’d love to write a blog post from each, 2014 is in full swing, so…

Here are the first four of eight standout projects:

_

1. Hospital in-patient experience

Client: CDHB.

Location: Christchurch, NZ.

The most sensitive environment and subject matter I’ve worked with so far.
I worked with hospital staff on wards and at patients’ bedsides to capture in-patients’ emotional responses to the experience of their stay.

After discharge we visited patients and their families at home for a reflection on the experience. A clear picture emerged, of what matters to a patient, from environment, to information to service, and their associated feelings. Together, the team formed key design principles to meet the emotional needs of patients.

In some interviews I used live-sketching to capture notes, It was fun so I wrote a short article about my technique, with ‘top tips’.
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1.5 Hospital ward prototyping

Later, in a GIANT warehouse, I helped lead a series of ward design / prototyping exercises with a super diverse set of stakeholders – from cleaners to clinicians, anaesthetists to architects.

I worked with a team of anthropologists and architects from Seattle-based design agency, NBBJ to facilitate full-size prototyping and simulation exercises, using  cardboard for walls, medical staff and actors to test various scenarios of use.

Those cardboard walls in the photos are a system called Mockwall designed specifically for spatial prototpying.

Since then the CDHB team have taken the prototypes through to a convincing level of detail where they can be validated through ‘almost real’ use. You can watch a short video showing where they’ve come to.

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2. No Trucking Worries

Client: Blackbay.

Location: Virginia, USA.

I was dropped into Richmond, Virginia and the world of the long haul trucker. As I found out, Richmond is smack in the middle of the Interstate 95, the busiest highway on the east coast, connecting 15 States.

My role was to capture the voice of the driver, the way they communicated on the road and the information they handled along the way.

Big rigs, 53 foot trailers, truck stops and the dedicated ‘tribe’ whose mantras were either ‘live to drive’, or ‘drive to survive’. After a few days of interviews I was talking their language of lumpers, spots, hooks, dead-heads and bob-tails.

I worked in classic diners and freight depots, alongside product managers to inform the design of plan an app to let drivers spend more time eating up highway and less time worrying.

Yes, the app is called No Trucking Worries

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3. Rock’n’roll radio

Client: Tait Radio.

Location:Christchurch, NZ.

To help Tait adopt a user centred approach to product development I planned and facilitated a rapid ‘learning by doing’ user centred design workshop focussing on installation of their in-vehicle radio systems.

This was a hands-on capability-building activity focussed on a specific project with the idea they could roll out the same approach on other projects.

I coached the team around research and analysis techniques, then took them through to prototyping and testing their concepts with their live customers.

I loved seeing engineers dig deep to define customer needs, then work together with plasticine and pipe-cleaners, receiving valuable feedback before moving designs forward.

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4. Border Entry

Location: London, UK.

Client: UK Government.

“What is the purpose of your visit to the UK today sir?”, became what is the experience of travellers entering UK borders?.

This was a dream opportunity to work in airports, a context I’ve always been intrigued by.

Unfortunately, with my curiosity at it’s peak a week into this project, the project timeline shifted and I couldn’t eat into my next project in NZ, so frustratingly found myself experiencing the NZ border entry earlier than expected. …Maybe another time.

Dream projects 5-8 next week…

The rest of the year saw me into the world of craft brewing, TV, motorhomes and wrangling supply chain, sales and distribution with my own side project, Mr. Tappy.  I’ll save all these for Part 2.