As mentioned in my previous article, it is my experience that most teams and projects don’t have the time or budget for robust research plans. Even so, you will still want to conduct some amount of research with people in your target audience to help ensure that you’re solving the right problems with your solution. Having a streamlined process in place for that will make it easier to get buy-in from stakeholders and clients to include it in your process.
Unlike the Usability Testing Sprint for VR that I wrote about in my previous article, this process is a 4-day research sprint much like the one Google Ventures originally wrote about in their articles. They did all of the hard work of documenting and setting up how the sprints work, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here. I will just cover the ways I’ve modified it for my own use with field research for XR projects.
The modified process
It’s not necessary for the 4 days in the sprint to be consecutive days. They can be spread out over the calendar, but should not be shortened to less than 4 days.
4 essential components
The essential components are slightly different than GV’s components since I have separated out a prototype to test into a different sprint. To learn more about that, check out my previous article. As with the usability testing sprint, this one includes rapid summarization of findings instead of real-time.
- A set of questions and assumptions. Again, nothing has changed here. You still need to decide up front amongst your team what will be tested, what information you will need to gather from the target participants, and what assumptions about the people and the solution you would want to validate.
- Intentional and selective recruiting. As with any project, you need to ensure the people you’re observing and interviewing are actually from your target audience. For example, if you’re creating a safety training simulation you’ll need to have people from that audience you’re training as a part of your research, ranging from novice to expert level. Depending on the nature of the company you’re working with, recruiting can happen with coordination from a location contact if you give them a list of requirements or a screener.
- A day of research combining observations and five 1-on-1 interviews including some broad discovery questions and project-specific questions. GV’s article explains why 5 is all you need for a sprint, so I won’t go into that again here. The main difference between their sprint and this one is that with XR projects, you’ll need to observe the task(s) being completed in the real world so you can emulate or augment them appropriately in XR. So, try to dedicate half a day to observations and half a day to five half-hour interviews. The observations will answer many of the questions you would normally ask in an interview, and some questions can be asked while you’re observing.
- Rapid summarization of findings. The reason this is not real-time is because of the tighter schedule when combining observations and shorter interviews. Usually when you’re on location conducting research there’s not a lot of downtime to debrief and write reports if you’ve planned your day well. You also want to be considerate of the workers you’re observing, so you’re on their schedule — not your own.
The caveat should be added that this is based on the nature of companies I work with, which provide less frequent access to the target audience. As such, the time spent on location with those people needs to be planned well and deference shown to their own work schedules. If your situation allows for more frequent access to your target audience, take advantage of that. In that case, you may be able to do the real-time summarization of findings.
A summary breakdown of each day
Again, you can get more in-depth information from the GV library on how the days are broken down, so this will focus on how I break them out for XR.
- Determine the location, and if necessary, begin location logistics
- Set the deadline for the research day based on availability of core team and location
- Start recruiting participants (getting the right people is really important)
- Draft the interview guide/script
- Finalize the schedule
- Confirm participants
- Complete the interview guide/script
- Gather supplies and equipment needed
- Conduct field observations
- Conduct interviews
- Summarize findings and debrief often throughout the day
- Have a full debrief
- Synthesize findings
- Create and send reports
- Plan next steps
Be sure to give good instructions and sample introductory invites to the person recruiting participants so that the participants have clear expectations of what will happen during the study.
Consider creating a set of templates for observation guides, interview scripts, screeners, introductory invite emails, rules of engagement, rapid debriefs and final reports.
The time of the people you’re observing is valuable, so come prepared and well-equipped. I’ve listed some of the basic items you’ll need for any project. You’ll need to stay mobile, so analog is the best way to go for notes. This is especially important if you’re observing in a hazardous environment.
- Audio/video recording device
- Camera (If taking pictures of equipment for modeling, this needs to be a high quality camera.)
- Chargers and spare batteries as needed
- Permission and release forms for recording/photos
- Field notebook, pens/pencils
- Printed interview guide and field research guide
- Clothes with lots of pockets (bags are less efficient and impractical)
- Safety equipment, if in a hazardous environment
- The GV research sprint: a 4-day process for answering important startup questions by Michael Margolis
- Field Studies by Nielsen Norman Group
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I’m an Immersive Tech UX Design Professional with over 22 years of experience designing for kiosks, websites, mobile apps and desktop software for many well-known and not-so-well-known companies.
I’m not speaking on behalf of or representing any company. These are my personal thoughts, experiences and opinions.