Research Methods

Research is a key component to any great strategy and should be the foundation of great design. Over the last year of learning at Indiana University, I've be exposed to a variety of research methods and I'd like to share a few of my favorite methods with you here. 

 
 
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Participatory Workshops

My first experience with workshops was when I helped facilitate an IBM Design Thinking workshop in November, 2017. Suffice to say that my mind was blown!!!! Our friends from IBM are former alums and were amazing at taking the group of 40-something people and organizing them into a design thinking machine. In only a few hours, they took the group from a vague idea like, "How can we make IU feel more like home?" and turned that into an actionable design plan. Their normal workshop length is a full weekend, but the methods are the same. 

I've adopted this style of participatory design because it can gather and organize many perspectives and ideas in a single place. The workshop goal is to gather data from various perspectives, then leverage our participants’ ideas into actionable design for a desired outcome. Using affinity diagrams, semantic differentials, and feasibility maps, we can create a hierarchy to prioritize and catalog our ideas.

 
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Interviews and storytelling

When you know me, you know I like to talk. This is super valuable is during interviews. I can keep a conversation with nearly anyone and when the goal is to extract thoughts and memories (data) from research participants, I’m pretty OK at it. I can build rapport quickly with most people and that allows them to feel comfortable talking to me. Encouraging memories and storytelling with people can be a struggle, but finding the human quality in human centered research is important. Let’s do it right!

The storytelling method is very strong for me. I can rely on a simple prompt to begin a train of memories, then use a single instance or memory to dive deeper into the meaning of an experience. I can’t imagine listening to a deeply meaningful story and not come out changed as well. In some sense, this type of storytelling experience is closely related to ethnography because you are experiencing the memories with the participant.

 
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Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a great opportunity to gain direct insights from your research subjects. The approach to a productive CI is to let the participant show you their work and processes. Put yourself in the role of student and absorb all there is to know about your participant's job and skill set. Listen to what they have to say. After all, they know more about their job than you or I (probably) ever will. Watch what they do. You will see their use of tools and their process might be counter intuitive to your assumptions. Most likely, you will encounter discrepancies in what they say and do; this is normal cognitive bias. Spoken and unspoken data will reveal itself in photos, audio, or video recordings. After the tasks are complete, talk to your participant about what you witnessed.

Watch, listen, learn.