Raffaella’s War Story: A hot day in a bank

Raffaella Roviglioni is a UX designer at usertest/lab. In this story she experiences, like the title says, a hot day in a bank!

I like planning for fieldwork as much as carrying out those plans. But if there’s one lesson I learned from my experience it’s that no matter how well you think about any detail in advance, there’s always room for problems.

During a current project with a nationwide bank the client agreed to conduct a round of interviews with employees from four different offices located between Rome and Milan.

The day of the interviews in Milan I got an early train. I was aware of the long day in front of me: four interviews in two different offices with the lunch break to be spent moving from one office to the other.

I was fully equipped with laptop, backup recording device, spare batteries, charging chords, pens, paper, water and even some food for an emergency. I thought I covered every possible glitch or obstacle given the context. After all, I was going to a bank: can you think of a more predictable, comfortable and reliable location? I couldn’t.

It was an unusually warm day of June. The temperature was above 38°C (100°F) and after the first two interviews my coworkers and I were heading to the second location, on the look-out for a quick lunch on the go. We walked from the underground to the bank for a few blocks and when we arrived everyone was pretty flushed. All I could think about was the relief of a air-conditioned office where I could start breathing again and conduct the last two interviews.

The came the surprise of the day: the air conditioning was out of order! Meanwhile, the two employees were waiting to be interviewed so we simply sat down and started with the first one.

I had memorized the guide in order to concentrate better on the interviewee without having to look at it, but during the first fifteen minutes I had serious problems concentrating. The heat was unbearable, humidity was close to 90% and my coworkers were panting all the time. I had to exercise some yoga breathing to calm down and try to detach myself from the uncomfortable situation and be able to focus on my task. I managed to get through the interview pretty well, then we moved to the second employee’s office.

He started telling us a lot of interesting information that didn’t come out in the previous interviews but at that point we were completely burnt out. It was really hard to follow up with him. Every question that came out of my mouth seemed nothing like clever to me. Luckily for us, the employee was pretty enthusiastic about the topic and basically conducted the conversation himself, giving us a number of significant insights despite our minimal interaction.

Usually the toughest field work has to do with reluctant participants or with poor planning. In this case, it was certainly not so, but still it was very hard for me to get to the end of the day. I guess those last insights were literally hard-earned!


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