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Quiet Before the Storm


10 days before the next in-depth user study starts, 240 hours of relative calm before the storm.

Sometimes its possible to plan a year in advance. The minimum stress free
lead time is 2 months to draw up a project plan, pull together a team –
typically people working in other time zones so expect late nights and early
mornings working from home, sync travel plans to the study location,
recruit participants, engage subcontractors for the stuff you can’t/don’t want
to do, assess and arrange local assistants and expect to deliver something
decent. The actual work load before the study is much less with access to
people with the right skills.

A lot of the prep work is simply project management and logistical planning.
We have processes to deal with most eventualities and I’m a self-confessed
form junkie. Data consent form? Sure, what language you want it in?
Probably about 75% to 95% of the plan will go as scheduled and the rest is
dealing with the situation you have and getting on with it. I’m not sure how
we would have dealt with Katrina though – the team left New Orleans about
a week before she arrived.

During the planning phase the creative part comes in figuring out which mix
of methods to use to get the data you’re after: shadowing, home stay, diary
variants, in-depth interviews, observations, street interviews, expert
interviews, …? Who are the most appropriate participants? Where is the
most productive place to spend time with them? What data you want to
collect? What formats? Why? Really Why? Really really why?

The real creativity and IMHO the value added for clients, comes in figuring
out what else the participants, team and location has to offer, and finding a
way to bottle and communicate the experience(s). Maybe this part of the
job is not user research – but experience bottling?