• EPIC 2012: Action-packed Tangible Empathy Workshop

    I’m on my way back to San Francisco from Savannah, Georgia where I was facilitating a workshop at EPIC 2012. I can’t help but still feel the excitement from this past weekend. The attendees brought diverse expertise, were continually engaged, and left me with new perspective.

    EPIC Conference continues to promote ethnography and the study of human behavior applied to the business context. However, after almost a decade, the program has started to focus more in depth on the value of design research (shown by Savannah College of Art and Design hosting the conference this year). While integrating concepts of design research into a research conference makes sense, there were two major questions I wanted to explore with this audience: 1) how to translate research findings into actionable design and 2) how to introduce co-research to facilitate better co-creation. While these seem like mutually independent topics, both involve understanding the most effective tools and activities for a specific audience in order to capture, translate, and act upon findings.

    In this workshop,”Tangible Empathy: Research for the Design of Touchpoints”, the attendees experienced an intensive and condensed “learn by doing” approach to capturing and translating design research in a mere three and a half hours! Being given the broad research questions of “How do users interact with touchpoints within the current experience?” and “How does the environmental context impact these interactions?” four teams, using four separate research activities (photo safari, scene tracing, flow diagrams, and touchpoint cards), set out into the heart of Savannah to study how members of the community behaved and interacted with their ‘stuff’ in the context of space (more specifically local coffee shops). When they returned, the groups translated their captured findings via a lightweight experience map/storyboarding exercise, which rapidly lead to identified themes and opportunities.

    The exciting part was not the research itself, as we all (or will at some point) have done the classic “study how people work in shared spaces” project, but what we learned about the four separate activities. I asked each of the teams before embarking on their research to think about the effectiveness, appropriateness, and intuitiveness of their chosen activity and how easily translatable the findings would be to actionable design. The key takeaways were:

    1. Photo Safari – Using photographs to capture user behaviors, interactions, touchpoints, and context. This tool was most effective at capturing the details, like facial expression, interactions with touchpoints, and overall context of space.
    2. Scene Tracing – Using acetate sheets to literally trace observed scenes of interactions and behaviors. This tool was most effective for studying user behaviors, and even postures and gestures, but lacked context. Great tool for those ‘non-designers’ who claim they cannot draw.
    3. Flow Diagrams – Using floor plan diagrams to map user behaviors through space and points of interaction. This tool was effective in understanding behaviors within space and how the two influence one another.
    4. Touchpoint Cards – Using cards with pictures of common touchpoints to facilitate user interviews and capture their needs/behaviors. This tool was effective in understanding how touchpoints played a role in a user’s experience but alone was difficult to understand the overall experience.
    5. Overall, we agreed that all four were effective structured research activities for “novice researchers” to kick-off more in-depth research. These would be great tools for conducting co-research with clients, stakeholders, or even users to identify problems and major behaviors, which all teams successfully accomplished based on their captured findings.
    6. However, they would require complementary observations and interviews, or combining multiple of the activities, to get to higher quality concepts.

    In the end, it was an action-packed day. I was excited by how much we were able to uncover using and evaluating these tools and even more impressed with how much the attendees were able to accomplish in such a short time.

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