(Este post também pode ser lido aqui em português.)
A workmate asked me some tips about conducting a Focus Group. That led me to think on what I have learned — and what I’m still learning — regarding User Research, be it on this group dinamic, be it in interviews and etnographic research. It’s not an exhaustive, definitive, list.
Warm up yourself and break the ice
Since people we recruit are not usually familiar with the ambient created by the research — nor they were made to be –, you, as a researcher have to be relaxed to help initial ice breaking. Do questions to warm yourself as for ignite the conversation. Sure: it’s not small talk, it’s about talking of something more broad inside the chosen theme.
General to particular
Speaking of a more broad sense… putting things this way — going from the whole to the part — seems to me a good path to follow. First, more opened questions… so to start focusing, step by step, without giving all away once.
Indirect, tangential, questions… why not?
When you do research, you have some questions in mind, don’t you? To do not influence or direct the replies, I suggest that you to add tangential questions regarding the main subject. That might give you some extra clues and help not to be so rough about getting what we’re looking for “as fast as you can!”.
Babblers: shut up! With the word, the introverts
This one is for group dynamics: usually some people talk more than others, for their temperament or not feeling comfortable in a given environment. It’s a indispensable role of the mediator to balance that. Mainly for the fact that introverts, in general, are more observant and have interesting things to say.
Bring your gang
To do any kind of research, don’t go by yourself. This is kind of obvious, but I’ll explain the main advantage: if you do an interview, for example, in pair with an workmate, one can be in charge of asking questions and looking in the eye of the interviewee, as the other is free to take notes without becoming directly involved. With more people involved and helping, you can discuss and consolidate findings from what they saw, heard, noted…
Look for stories, not theories
Theories are for experts (developers, designers, product managers …), storytelling is for everyone. From theories, we are already well supplied, reading blogs, books, talking on a daily basis with colleagues. A good story of how people behave “out there” is what really matters.
Get technical problems out of your sight
Do not let technical issues (eg, “How do we record this usability test? Microphone is working right?”) be on your way when it’s research time. Solve this problems as soon as possible, and if they don’t have solution, simplify, cut something that you had initially planned, to not lose the chance of doing it anyway.