Posts tagged “research methods”

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

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(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Audio

Reading Ahead: Building models

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We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…

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models

Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting

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There’s always something new in every project. Often we encounter a bit of process that we may not know how to best manage it. So we’ll make our best plan and see what happens. We learn as we go and ultimately have a better way for dealing with it next time.

In a regular client project, we write a screener and work with a recruiting company who finds potential research participants, screens them, and schedules them. Every day they email us an updated spreadsheet (or as they call it “grid”) with responses to screener questions, scheduled times, locations, and contact info. It still ends up requiring a significant amount of project management effort on our end, because questions will arise, schedules will shift, people will cancel, client travel must be arranged, etc. etc.

For Reading Ahead, we did all of the recruiting ourselves. Although we’ve done this before, this may be the first time since the rise of social media: we put the word out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email to friends, and here on All This ChittahChattah.

While Dan lead the effort, we both used our own networks, and so we got responses in a number of channels, sent to either or both of us, including:

  • @ replies on Twitter
  • direct messages on Twitter
  • Comments on Facebook posts
  • Messages on Facebook
  • Emails (directly to either of us, or forwarded from friends, and friends-of-friends

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A private dialog on Facebook

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Comments on a Facebook status update. Note that Dan is able to jump in and make contact directly

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Direct Messages in Twitter

Some people were potential participants, some were referrers to other potential participants, and some were both. And given the range of platforms we were using, with their associated restrictions (and unclear social protocols), we had to scramble to figure out who could and should communicate with who to follow up and get to the point where we could see if the people in question were right for the study. We didn’t expect this to happen, and eventually Dan’s inbox and/or his Word document were no longer efficient, and as some participants were scheduled or in negotiation to be scheduled, he ended up with this schedule cum worksheet:

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Being split across the two of us and these different media, eventually we were interacting with people for whom we had to check our notes to trace back how we had connected to them, which was great for our sample, since it meant we weren’t seeing a group of people we already knew.

It was further complicated when we had finished our fieldwork and wanted to go back to everyone who offered help close the loop with them, thanking them for help. Technically, and protocol-wise, it took some work (who are the people we need to follow up with? Who follows up with them? What media do they use), basically going through each instance one-by one.

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We haven’t figured out what we’ll do next time; we won’t forget the challenges we’ve had but there’s just not time or need right now to plan for the future. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a Google Spreadsheet that includes where we got people from, who owns the contact, whether they are participant-candidate or referrer, etc.). Despite being very pessimistic about the demands of recruiting, we still underestimated the time and complexity required for this project.

Reading Ahead: Looking for the story

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I started today by typing up all of the Post-it notes you saw in our recent blog post on Synthesis.

This activity created a 6-page Word document of bullet points.

The next part of the process is something I always find challenging: taking an incredibly detailed list of observations, particpant statements, hypotheses, and ideas; figuring out what the Big Ideas are (there’s a point in the process where many of them seem Big!), and putting those into a form that tells a cogent story.

First step: make a cup of tea.

Ok, then my next steps were:

  • Categorize all those bullet points
  • Synthesize those categories a bit further
  • Write down in as short a paragraph as possible what I would tell someone who asked me, “what did you find out?”

Then I went into PowerPoint, which is what we use when we present findings to our clients. I’ll continue bouncing back and forth between Word and PowerPoint; each piece of software supports a different way of thinking and writing.

I dropped my synthesized categories into a presentation file, sifted all of the bullet points from my Word doc into the new categories, and then started carving and shaping it all so that it started to follow the paragraph I had written. (I’m mixing cooking and sculpting metaphors here.)

I printed out the presentation draft, and laid it out so I could see the whole thing at once.

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Steve came back from a meeting and I asked him to read over what I’d printed out. He started writing notes on my printouts, pulling out what he saw as the biggest of the Big Ideas.

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We talked about what he’d written, which led to an energetic discussion in which we really started to breathe life into this. Tomorrow, I’ll start the day by iterating the presentation draft based on our conversation.

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

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Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

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Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.

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Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.

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While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.

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When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:

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Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.

Reading Ahead: Photo Diaries

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In addition to our in-person fieldwork, we often ask research participants to do some kind of task on their own. In past projects, these assignments have included a range of activities, from workbooks and journals with specific daily prompts, to fairly open-ended photo diaries.

For Reading Ahead, we asked people to do a short photo diary, and send us five or so digital pictures (before the interview session) that would help us get a sense of how reading fits into their lives.

Diaries like this accomplish several things. They give us access to a person’s world beyond what we might be able to get in just a face-to-face meeting. We’re able to see what they do in more locations, at more different times, and in more situations.

We probably won’t be there to see someone actually reading in bed before they go to sleep at night, but they might well ask a family member to take a picture of it for their photo diary, as Tracy did for this project.

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Diaries also help us build rapport more quickly with the people we’re meeting, by giving us a common set of stories to begin the conversation with. There’s often a bit of back and forth dialogue between us and the participants during the assignment as well, which helps us establish a relationship.

Having some shared knowledge and possibly interaction prior to the interview means that when we are face-to-face, we can jump right in with that person at a deeper level, which can free up time in the interview session for exploring more areas of the research topic.

When you look at the pictures people sent us for this project, you’ll see that they’ve responded in a variety of ways. Some focused on objects, some took pictures of other people, and some photographed themselves or had other people photograph them. It’s useful to see the different ways people interpret the topic area, and the connections they draw. It helps us understand how each person sees the world, and can point us to additional lines of inquiry.

Below are the photo diaries for Reading Ahead.

Erica

Peter

Tracy

Julie

Reading Ahead: Participatory Design

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Tracy and her younger son thinking about possibilities for books and reading devices

Our fieldwork sessions often include a piece in which we ask participants to brainstorm and fantasize about the future.

In an earlier post, we talked about the simple models we were building for the Reading Ahead interviews.

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Book and device models for participatory design activity

We wanted to put something in people’s hands to help them show us what the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future” could be and do. (This fieldwork approach borrows from participatory design.)

We’ve had clients come out in the field with us and say after an interview, “That person didn’t give us any ideas,” so it’s important to clarify that we don’t expect this kind of activity to directly produce marketable ideas. Rather, it gives people another mode for expressing themselves, and it’s great for helping them communicate things which may not always be easy to verbalize, like:

  • Their desires
  • What they think should exist
  • What problems they are trying to solve
  • What seems acceptable and what seems outlandish to them
  • Preferences and in what ways they would like something to be different

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Chris uses the device model to help express his thoughts about navigation

Often for us, the very act of making the props for an activity suggests new ways of using them. In this case, while making a blank cover for the “future book” model, we realized that we could also make a blank inner page spread.

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Holding the “book of the future” model

As it turned out, this meant that when we were done with the sessions, people had created very nice book models for us, with a cover and inner spread.

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Erica’s “telescoping shopping bag” book with digital annotations, hyperlinks, and built-in dictionary

Part of the preparation for each interview session was to get the models ready with new blank paper. Here I am on the trunk of my car, prepping the models before an interview in San Francisco.

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Now that the fieldwork is done, we have a great collection of models made by the people we interviewed.

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Artifacts from participants’ “future book” ideation

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The last section (copied below) of our Topline Summary synthesizes some of what we gleaned from this part of the fieldwork. These are just quick hits; we’ll develop any themes and recommendations that come out of these activities much further in the analysis and synthesis phase of the project.


Excerpt from Topline Summary: Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”

NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off

  • Durable
  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions
  • Size-shifting
  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality
  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy
  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting
  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands
  • Reading Ahead: Topline Summary

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    As soon as possible after concluding fieldwork, we write a Topline Summary, in which we capture our first impressions and the ideas that are top-of-mind from being in the field.

    We’re always careful to be clear about what the Topline is and isn’t. There’s synthesis that happens from the fieldwork experience itself (which the Topline captures), and synthesis that happens from working with the data (which we haven’t done yet).

    In the Topline we go a step further than the field highlights and start to articulate some of the patterns we think are emerging, but these ideas may change once we do a detailed analysis and synthesis of the data we’ve gathered.

    In a client project, we’ll have a discussion with the client team around the Topline Summary. We encourage members of the client team to come out in the field with us, and the Topline discussion is a great opportunity for everyone who did so to share their experiences and tell stories. The Topline discussion is also a good time for our clients to let us know if there are any specific directions they want us to pursue as we analyze and synthesize the data we’ve gathered.

    We’ve now finished our fieldwork for Reading Ahead. We conducted six in-depth interviews, with photo diary and participatory design activities (more in our next few posts about these methods).

    Here’s our Topline Summary:



    Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Topline Summary

    1. Reading is not just a solo activity; there are significant social/interpersonal aspects for many people
    • Recommendations, book clubs, lending

    • Books facilitate the interpersonal aspects of reading

    • Can be easily lent or given away
    • Given as gifts
    • People can use a book together: parents and kids, showing someone a passage or illustrations, etc.

    • Reading can be a big part of family life

    • Childhood memories, passing books between generations, reading with one’s own children.

    • Connection between home life and outside world (school)

    1. Reading and Books are not always one and the same
    • Erica buys some books because she likes them as objects. She knows she may not read all of them. “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

    • Jeff says if you love to read, you’d like the Kindle. If you love books, you should try it out before you buy one

    • The Kindle facilitates types of reading beyond books: blogs, articles, periodicals

    1. Books do more than carry content
    • Books engage the senses: they are tactile, visual objects, with specific characteristics like smell and weight

    • Become carriers of specific memories

    • Develop a patina that carries meaning
    • An inscribed book becomes a record of an event, interaction, relationship

    • There is an art/collector aspect to books (which is absent in the Kindle)
    • First editions
    • Signed copies
    • Galley proofs
    • Typography
    • Pictures and illustrations
    • Quality of paper, printing, etc.
    • Books say something about a person
    • Others can see what you’re reading; like clothes, etc., this carries meaning
    • “Looking at someone’s bookshelves when you go to their house” (Jeff)
    • When people give books as gifts they are deliberately communicating something about the relationship, the event, themselves, and the recipient

    • Books can create a physical record of someone’s reading activity
    • Chris used to line up all the books he had read to get a sense of accomplishment
    • Annotations, bookmarks, tags all convey the reader’s personal history with that book

    1. Books are easily shared
    • Pass them along to others

    • Donate to library

    • Sell or buy at used book store

    • Borrow from the library rather than purchasing

    1. How books are stored and organized carries meaning
    • Emotion, sense of pride, expression of personality, record of engagement

    • Erica organizes her books by how the content/type of book feels to her: “dusty” classics, modern classics, etc.

    • Julie’s extensive shelves are organized alphabetically to reinforce the idea of library

    1. Libraries and bookstores provide specific experiences
    • As a little girl, Erica visited different libraries with her Mom. This was their daily activity, and Erica retains strong and specific memories

    • Julie and her housemate recreated a library atmosphere in their home

    • A quiet, comfortable space
    • Good lighting
    • Alphabetized bookshelves
    • A unified décor

    • For Jeff and others, spending time browsing in a bookstore represents having leisure time

    1. The Kindle
    • For people whose love of reading is bound up in their love of books, the Kindle loses much of the reading experience; it is only a content carrier

    • Julie has a history of wanting to read on electronic devices as well as from printed books, so to her, the Kindle is a big evolutionary step from her old Palm, the iPhone, etc.

    • For Erica, the Kindle signifies “computer,” so it does not let her “unplug” from the fast-paced connected lifestyle that books provide a refuge from

    • Several people described the kinetics of page-turning as an important aspect of reading books that is absent in the Kindle

    • Books afford ways of navigating content that the Kindle does not: flipping, comparing non-sequential pages, looking at the recipes at the end of each chapter, etc.

    • Peter finds it frustrating that when he buys a Kindle book from Amazon, he can’t share it. When he started working in an environment where people were passing books around, he went back to reading printed books

    1. Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”
    • NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

    • Instant on-off
    • Durable

    • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

    • Interactive
    • Put yourself in the story
    • Leave the story for more information
    • Choose from alternate endings, versions

    • Size-shifting

    • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
    • Retain the book form while adding functionality

    • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
    • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
    • Privacy

    • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
    • Projecting

    • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands

    Reading Ahead: Props For The Field

    Reading ahead logo with space above

    As we get into actual fieldwork this week, we’ll be using (as is typical for us) a mashup of techniques. In addition to interviewing people, we’ll be watching how and where they read books or Kindles. But we’ll also want to get into a discussion of future possibilities. Reading Ahead is not about evaluating existing designs but instead getting inspiration and information that can drive future designs. So we don’t have anything to test, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use testing-like (“What do you think of this?”) activities. In this case, we’ve built extremely simple representations that suggest book and digital reader.

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    Dan building a thing-to-hold for this week’s interviews

    The idea (and we’ll learn what happens once we do a couple of interviews) is to have something neutral to put into people’s hands and let them gesture, sketch, or otherwise perform, so the activity of discussing the future isn’t just a verbal one. We’re going to ask people to draw on these props, and then we’ll have an artifact created by the participants themselves. Those artifacts can be compelling, and can also be a much more impactful symbol of what took place in that part of the interview.

    We’ve never used this exact prop before, but in just about every project we’ll come up with a range of tools to use in the field. Our interviews are very open-ended so we could use either of the props to explore any emergent themes, depending on what we use them to talk about (From “How would you hold this?” to “Well, if it did come with your Happy Meal, draw what you’d expect to see on the main screen.”

    For more, see Moving with a Magic Thing (PDF) and Design the Box

    Reading Ahead: The Interview Guide

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    Before we go out in the field we write an interview guide (or field guide), a list of all the topics we want to cover.

    Interview guides end up being very linear and structured, but the interactions we have in the field are looser and more conversational. We’ll let the way we pose our questions flow much more from what the person we’re interviewing is saying than from the sequence and phrasings of the interview guide.

    Even though we know this will happen, we’ve still been working hard to hash out our questions ahead of time–even the basic ones. It’s like John McLaughlin said about jazz improvisation: you have to learn all the chords so that you can forget about them.

    The interview guide is also something for everyone (including our clients) to look at, to make sure we’re all on the same page as we head into fieldwork.

    Our interview guide for Reading Ahead is here.

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