Kara Swisher of Re/code gave a keynote address for Interaction 15 in which she described trends in content. One thing she talked about was the way Buzzfeed rapidly generates listicles and memes from shared media experiences. She joked about trying to apply this lighthearted approach to subjects she has covered–“15 Things Bill Gates was thinking while I was interviewing him.”
Well, I’m a user researcher, so Swisher’s talk made me think of user research. If you’ve ever wavered over whether to take a survey in exchange for being entered in a drawing, you won’t be surprised to learn it takes skill to design a study people will actually want to participate in. And if you’ve ever pondered the hit to your budget for recruiting participants from a highly-specialized user group, you might be interested in this study suggesting that playful surveys can intrinsically motivate people to participate (meaning, it’s not payment that’s motivating them, and they are better focused on the task).
Why does so much user research require extrinsic motivation? Because the studies are boring, generic, and the users don’t understand what’s in it for them. Well, how the heck does that happen?
Reason #1: You don’t want to offend anyone.
Right now, I’m working on an application for customer service representatives who take calls from health insurance subscribers and health care providers. We’ve done several rounds of usability testing and interviews, but now I think we may have missed an opportunity to play a design game: “Make Your Own David Letterman Top 10 List.”
- Top 10 ways you know you’re going to have to escalate this call
- Top 10 ways you know someone has worked here more than 10 years
- Top 10 things every new rep should know
- Top 10 people most likely to eat your lunch out of the break room refrigerator
Humor is tricky, and we don’t want to put people in the position to say something they’ll regret when we are recording them on the job. Nor do we want to subject them to someone’s disrespectful take on their work. I’d have to keep playing with “the Buzzfeed effect” to find an appropriate way to employ it with enterprise users.
Design games are not new, though. Playing a game makes space for participants to reflect, compare options, and imagine what could be. Even busy executives can find value in seeing their Very Serious Project from a playful perspective.
Reason #2: You don’t know what motivates your users.
Another place I could see a Buzzfeed-style approach is with a website survey, à la Woot.com’s community polls or Anne Friedman’s GIF-laden survey of her newsletter subscribers (You’ll want to click that second one–monetization is rarely so delightful.).
Here’s an idea for a potential unmoderated usability survey:
- How many times did you curse while using this site?
- How many times would your dad have to call you if he used this site?
- How close is your face to the screen right now?
- How much do you like baby sloths, on a scale of 10-28?
OK, so that’s also a little tricky. We don’t want to use a voice that isn’t consistent with the company’s brand. But even if the brand is conservative, some legwork and creativity can find a way to connect with participants beyond a paid incentive. Whether that’s through humor, or through doing an effective job of communicating the value of the study, it doesn’t happen without some effort and skill. And that can’t be replaced by an Amazon gift card.
Besides, when I see the same few survey pop-ups on every site, I have to think a more customized, engaging approach would have a better chance of being on-brand.
Reason #3: You don’t have the right people.
So, if I told you that our Experience Design group is packed with researchers, designers, and content strategists who regularly knock each other off our custom ergonomic office chairs with memes and one-liners, how likely would you be to have us talk with your customers?
- I already hired you, and I’m so glad.
- Call me.
- I’d better forward this to my manager.
- Wait, what’s a GIF?