Imagine that you’re in the midst of some fantastic UX research with a participant when suddenly, s/he is on a tangent and you are unsure of what to do next. Do you stop them or let them ride it out?
In the first post in our series on tangent trains, we focused on four common tangent trains that can occur in workshops (also known as brainstorming or innovation sessions) and how to get them back on track. In this second post, we’ll focus on five UX research blockades or obstacles caused by tangents and how to break through them. While doing so, we’ll also illustrate how experiencing these roadblocks can actually provide some invaluable insight for your design teams when executing their UX, CX, product, or service design efforts.
Keeping the Train on Schedule
During a UX research activity like concept walkthroughs or other semi-structured research activities, research participants who are very analytical tend to give out more information than necessary. They will explain situations and ideas with great detail and facts that may be hard to follow. These “information overload” types of tangents can eat up a lot of your research time and momentarily derail your train.
How to break through: In this situation, you may simply need to listen to more material than you would like to in order to keep rapport high and ensure your participant that you are indeed listening. Board their train of thought and see where it takes you, while trying to keep the schedule that you have laid out for your UX research in mind. You might uncover some valuable information that you wouldn’t have known had you not boarded their tangent train.
Staying Ahead of the Train
Junction tangents (i.e. tracks are diverging) are a type of tangent that take the participant out of data-rich areas and/or into areas where s/he might not feel comfortable. Not knowing enough about the product or service that you are researching will limit your ability to recognize when this type of tangent is occurring with a research participant.
How to break through: If you conduct your due diligence prior to the research activity, you will have acquired the knowledge to be able to effectively discourage research participants away from a junction tangent. This is important, as you want to make the most of the available time during a research session.
Keeping the Train on Track
During usability tests, you may have a click-happy, very explorative participant who keeps going off track from your test protocol. For example, s/he may be exploring areas that you do want to evaluate, but not at that moment.
How to break through: You’ll need to reassure him/her that you do want to discuss the areas that s/he’s exploring, but ask them politely to hold off until you have finished all of your steps. However, if the participant is going places that are out of scope, it might be a great opportunity to ask why and what s/he is exploring. Their exploratory-focused tangent could reveal some problems (or solutions) that you didn’t know were there in the first place.
Creating your own Tangent Train
As a UX researcher, you might be inadvertently creating situations that inherently encourage tangents. For example, imagine that the product you are researching is an email application and you want to know how people use their email each morning (e.g. you’re interested in learning how people prioritize who to respond to first). However, if you ask them to list what they do when they get to work, you’re going to get a lot of information you don’t need (e.g. make coffee, put lunch in the fridge, hang up coat, and connect laptop).
How to break through: In order to avoid creating a situation that will lead people to provide tangential feedback only, you need to have clear and specific research objectives. Go over, in detail, exactly what you’re looking for and ensure that there isn’t anything that could be misinterpreted.
Don’t Let the Client Switch Trains
You might have a client who will use your research findings as just the ticket they need for a tangential objective within their organization. They are leveraging the findings for a different purpose than what was originally intended.
How to break through: Using results from one research activity and applying it to another could result in a dangerous situation. So, when you’re sharing your research findings, indicate to your client how the findings should be interpreted and allow them to be an active participant when these findings and recommendations are transferred. This will enable a two-way dialog to ensure the findings are interpreted appropriately and then actively follow up with your client afterward. In addition, involve your stakeholders throughout the research process (e.g. being a silent observer during usability tests or reviewing test protocols or interview guides), as they are often subject-matter experts and can help further define research objectives.
During the course of conducting your UX research, you will likely encounter one or more of these obstacles. Keep our solutions in mind while attempting to break through and remember that these roadblocks might unveil an area of your research that you hadn’t thought of before. Knowing that obstacles might provide additional insights and combined with keeping your eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel, you will make it through to the other side.
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