What is design research data?

Are you recording enough after customer research encounters?

Noting behaviours, attitudes, and context during research encounters uncovers rich findings and helps to tell compelling customer stories. Just recounting what was said misses important data.

Consider the attitudes, behaviours and context  of research subjects carefully during design research encounters.

Sometimes designers and researchers return from field trips with written notes of what was said as the only record of their encounters. Memories of what was witnessed are forgotten, stories about people lack nuance and the resulting insights can seem generic.

As designers we promote the value of our work as an opportunity to uncover the why and new meaning. We justify observational field research as the method to uncover behaviour that customers cannot articulate (e.g. what people say is not what they do).

But we risk under-delivering on our own promise when the field notes we record don’t delve into the subtleties of what we experienced in the encounter. If our notes only reflect what was said in a conversation we risk failing to produce anything substantially different to that which could have been delivered over a phone interview. (Phone interviews can be great too). We can miss sharing what was novel and curious about the customer, staff and user stories we have to tell.

Short timeframes and demand for leaner methods are good reasons why this can happen but there are tools and frameworks that can help. Two easy tools are POEM and AEIOU.

  • POEM: People, Objects, Environments, Messages, Services
  • AEIOU: Environment, Users, Activities, Objects, Interactions

These tools are convenient shortcuts to help keep in mind the behaviours and context we should be paying close attention to during interviews and afterwards.

Consider and reflect on behaviour

  • What was the sequence of steps that was taken? Did the product support or hinder this sequence?
  • What was the subject’s body language? Did it support or contradict what was being said?
  • Was the subject indifferent? What do they value? What delights them?
  • What aspects of the experience was the subject avoiding? Why?
  • How has the subject adapted to their behaviour? What shortcuts, hacks have they developed?

Consider and reflect on the context

  • What clues does the work environment (or places the experience occurs in) yield?
  • What physical traces can you detect in the environment? What do they mean?
  • What artefacts do you see lying around or close at hand? What personal documents can you explore with the subject?
  • How does the subject record or store information?
  • What clues does the product inventory yield?

Consider and reflect on attitudes and projections

  • What aspects of the experience or product elicit strong emotional responses?
  • What preferences were demonstrated?
  • What is a perfect product or experience to the subject?
  • How does the subject respond to imagined future scenarios and prototypes?


References and further reading

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