This is a 3-part series on User Research based on our collective experiences at Adeptic Labs. User Research is a crucial part of User X-perience design while building products, solutions, services or pretty much anything consumable. Our experiences manifest in these articles and we hope you find them easy to read and adopt while doing user research for your work. Our blogs are meant for anyone involved in creating products, solutions or services besides product managers, designers, engineers and of course UX researchers.
At Adeptic Labs we actively practice and apply user research techniques to several aspects of our work. We strongly believe that experiential and social learning, which are part of our work, have helped us assimilate good practices that enable application of that learning back into our work.
These articles took shape while we were designing our cohort-based learning program called Thinking Design. The inputs came largely from recent customer experiences and our learning while delivering services around e-learning design, marketing strategy and reinforcement learning.
We believe these 3 attributes will help anyone conducting user research:
- Spirit of Enquiry
- Patient persistence/periodic persistence
In this blog I will focus on curiosity and talk about how to re-activate it and use it spontaneously in addition to planned user research methods. I call these methods Curiosity Conversations or CC’s.
As children we are naturally curious about everything around us. From a tiny ant pursued by a crawling infant to toddlers crushing dry leaves in a park to goth dressing and tuning into all kinds of music through teenage years. As we grow older we tend to put our natural curiosity aside due to various factors. Reviving it is a good practice if you want to be a good user researcher.
My curiosity practice began consciously as a coach and trainer 4 years ago, while working with various engineering teams. I developed the practice so I could guide and coach teams on how to conduct user research and in turn learn from other people.
Curiosity Conversations are difficult to initiate when you are amidst strangers. I mean, how do I not come across as nosy or invading someone’s privacy or invoking a horrifying “its-none-of-your-business” response? I started practising my CC’s while travelling. As tourists most of us land up having conversations with total strangers. Being a stranger, in a strange place, gives you nearly unbridled agency to strike conversation with people. I say start with the locals. They indulge you, mostly, and will eagerly pander to your curiosity about them and their place with pride. Common CC starter questions include
- What are the best places to eat local food?
- What do you recommend I see?
- What do you do for a living?
- What do you like to eat?
Sounds familiar and ridiculously simple, doesn’t it? I am sure many of you do this already.
See who I discovered on a recent trip to Rajasthan – a tourists’ delight with magnificent palaces, forts and intriguing desert terrain.
- A guide who was a camel trainer in childhood. He is a self-taught historian and has travelled to 7 Indian states during off-season months to discover their histories. He has learned 3 Indian and 2 European languages by being a tour guide and guess what – he learned those languages by being curious with tourists. How about that? His goal in life is to write a book on complete Indian history. A gargantuan, true Big Hairy Audacious Goal!
- A solar power installation engineer turned maverick entrepreneur. He started his career installing wind farms and then found corporate life stifling. He runs a tea shop on the sand dunes during peak tourist seasons called “Engineers Tea Stall” and rears sheep for wool harvesting in the off-season. His goal in life is to encourage young people like himself to find their purpose and live life to its fullest.
- A stone trader turned tourist guide, who gave me an excellent tutorial on nearly a dozen unique stones found in the region and how each one was used in construction of magnificent forts and palaces. He’s a treasure trove of native cures, sings ballads and carves beautiful idols in soft sandstone.
All in the span of curiosity conversations ranging from 2 hours to 20 minutes.
A few tips while conducting informal CC’s –
- Stay in the conversation. Go beyond the stock questions, like the ones stated above. Trigger your natural curiosity to go deep with curious enquiry. People very quickly reveal their stories and delightful facts.
- Connect with intent. Make eye contact, genuinely smile at the person, and make them feel like you are listening. I call this the curiosity connect. The world between your subject of curiosity and you just opened. You might then listen to people’s goals, motivation and sometimes concerns and of course, as a visitor to their place, matters of pride for them.
- Leverage traveller status. Things naturally stand out when you are a traveller, so you land up noticing little details. We pay close attention and intensely observe our environment while trying to figure out a space and people that are foreign and new. So, striking up conversations usually fall in line, as we travel and want to know people and places.
Practising CC’s while travelling has helped me make it part of my life. In addition to being personally enriching, it has eased the process of conducting interviews during planned user research or ethnography activities. Now, I regularly talk to strangers where I live, invoking and exercising my curiosity.
As humans, we are social people and thrive on social interactions. CC’s have helped people open up and share their feelings, thoughts, frustrations and motivations. These form the basis of solid user research. Curiosity Conversations have enabled travel writers to create beautiful works like Down Under by Bill Bryson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and even the Lonely Planet series, that we as users have delightfully consumed.
Have you tried Curiosity Conversations during your travels or otherwise? What were the outcomes of your curiosity conversations? Share your experiences with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Curious about the next big attribute that helps you become good at User Research? Stay tuned for an exploration on a Spirit of Enquiry.