Art of Conversation in Research

by Kevin Makice

One of the great challenges for UX researchers is getting beneath the surface responses in an interview to muck in the really interesting things people are thinking about. Surveys can’t do this, of course, and often 1:1 interviews are less about casual conversation than aggregating responses to structured questions. Our best tool for revealing deeper ideas is a well-run focus group where the participants are allowed to read.

In the UK, Simon Lidington — inspired by everyman author Studs Turkel — came up with a more generative way of getting at this depth of insight. He eschewed the hypothesis-validation model in favor of a sofa:

The sofa is a physical thing, Lidington says, but also “a metaphor for having a conversation, a place where people can feel relaxed, open and are not being grilled for information”.

The process of culling through hours of video footage created by this process, though, is daunting for most organizations. Lidington went a step further and helped develop software to streamline that process through transcripting, search, and tagging.


The Big Sofa Demo

The early success of this line of inquiry is a good reminder that context matters. It isn’t the free coffee or tea that is enticing people to share; it is the sense of relationship this kind of more intimate arrangement affords.

Research Magazine (August 4, 2011, by Brian Tarran)

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