On the Road Again…Traveling in Pairs

 At User Insight, research is part of every day life.  Over the last 10 years, we’ve learned where and how we can be more efficient or streamline process. One thing we never compromise is our team approach to collecting information, here’s 3 reasons why:

Keeping it honest

Do you ever watch a movie with someone, turn to them afterwards and say “that was    amazing” as they say to you (at the exact same time) “that was awful”? Everyone imprints their own thoughts onto an experience. Two people can go into an office or someone’s home and notice very different things.  After every interview as we plug in coordinates for our next location, we discuss the highlights from the last interview.  Inevitably I’ll say something like, “Did you see their kitchen, it was totally redone – she had amazing attention to detail!” The person I’m with will say something like, “Did you see they had a framed picture of the default Microsoft beach background – why?” Traveling in pairs keeps us honest and helps us notice all the surroundings to inform our research, not just the things that we find interesting.


There’s also the logistics, going into someone’s environment, you want to be as unobtrusive as possible, which means you want to set up recording equipment FAST. I equate it to the process of going through TSA security: Bags in bucket, liquids out, laptop in bin, shoes off. I can do it in my sleep. I do the same for setting up for a contextual interview: laptop out, notebook open, artifacts ready, recording device on, camera set up on tripod – all while maintaining conversation to put someone at ease. The most powerful thing I can do for my end-clients is make sure that I’m representing User feedback accurately and cleanly, the best way to do that is to let the Users speak.  I can’t do that if I don’t have recordings of the audio or a log of the conversation.  If I’m the one asking the questions, I want to actively listen and be present, if I’m typing and worried about the recording devices the whole time, I can’t engage in a meaningful way.  It’s great to have someone with you to worry about technology and capturing the moment so I can focus on being IN the moment.

One of us makes it out alive

My favorite story from the road was when I was doing contextual research with small business owners.  We pulled up to an apartment building, the “business” address was for apartment 5. I looked at my partner in crime on the project and said, “the most important part of contextuals is one of us makes it out alive, if this thing goes South – I’ll block, you run.” She looked at me funny, I thought, she’s probably concerned that my brain worked in such a sick way but instead she questioned my logic,

“You’re a mom, I can’t be responsible if you aren’t the one who makes it out, I’m not down with this plan.”   We laughed and I was reminded why we travel in pairs – not because we are morbid pessimists – rather, you never know what you’re walking into, having two people go is smart and safe.  (As it turned out, the gentleman we interviewed was fantastic and was a critical piece of the puzzle that later helped us form one of the primary small business clusters)

I dedicate this post to, Beth Yeckley, User Insight Alum and the ultimate road-warrior.  She’s a great researcher with a keen mind who partnered with me on the road to discover great insights for many projects during her time at Ui.  Beth always (always) makes anything or anyone that crosses her path better.