The value of understanding who you design for can make or break a product. I'm a keen design researcher, have lead many teams, and have a natural nag for connecting with people, and sniffing out great potential opportunities. I've taught the methods of design research and design thinking to industry leaders, business executives as well as master students.
It can be daunting to go out and talk to complete strangers, and we need a set of solid practises to do it right. So here are my 4 most important rules of user engagement and field work:
Listen, really listen!
Be present, listen and engage in conversation. Don't read from a list, don't read from cue cards, follow up on what people say. Ask open ended questions and ask about what you don't know. Have your note taker keep track of pre-outlined questions.
Check your emotions
Don’t be emotional, be curious. Empathy is not about you getting overwhelmed. Gently observe your personal reactions in the situation and save the outlet for later.
Give people their space to show how they feel. Their emotions are information, you are there to do a job. Often we are in sensitive situations doing field work, be professional. Don’t be afraid to dig deep. Ask respectfully and pay attention to the answer. Be personal, warm, open and kind, but don’t get emotional.
Take pictures. Film. Record sound.
This is needed to validate findings and connect the design team, internal organisation and external clients to key opportunity areas. Minimum team: one interviewer listening and engaging, one note taker. Use a tripod to film interviews if you can. Use a good camera phone or more high-end equipment. Film and document as people demonstrate their habits and actions. All of the team take pictures.
Get out there!
Don’t be afraid to get dirty.... Just go!
You will learn so much more than from your desktop.
..... really... get outside and immerse yourself! It will make a difference to your market share. I've taken a good number of executives into the field, teaching them about the value of connecting with and understanding their user base, and with no exception, they all arrived at valuable new business opportunities.