BEHIND THE SCENES

Most people I’ve met think UX is all about travelling to different parts of the country and world. This is partly true but there are other things that happen behind the scenes that are not so glamorous.

Preparation

Before you go out to the field you of course need to prep. What kind of clothes and shoes you need to pack for the excursion is just a minor detail though jeans, tees and comfortable shoes like rubber shoes (Toms) are advised.

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the terrain in the area above called for boots. (notice the caption on my tee) 

It is important to know the reason you’re going out to the field and what you hope to achieve. Are you trying to come up with a solution for post harvest loss? Who are the best people to talk to, observe or generally interact with? Which location should you go to? Is it the rich fertile lands in the highlands or the reclaimed lands in the semi arid areas? Once you figure out the people and location the next thing is prepping the questions you need answered and how to achieve that. Aside from interviews, observation and joining in the activities as they happen one may sometimes need to get creative with activities e.g instead of asking what percentage of money is spent on school fees, food, shopping, saving etc you may give a pile of grains to a participant and have them divide them into quotas of how the household income is spent. This can be useful especially when dealing with reserved or people who have problems expressing themselves e.g due to language barriers or literacy issues.

Field work

So now you’re out in the field whether locally in your country or abroad. What now? Do you go out exploring and enjoying the sun (it’s been so long since you had a chance to sun bathe and feel the sun’s rays on you face), meet new people (God knows how much you need a little spice in your life 🙂 ) or generally just enjoy being out of the office in a new region or country.

Sorry to burst the bubble but you’re out there to work. The weather may or may not be to your liking. The people, their culture and land may come as a culture shock and sometimes your carefully prepared itinerary may have to be thrown out the window. You of course knew you were going to be working in a semi urban region, what you didn’t anticipate were the horrible roads that you had to use to go inland while riding on rickety motor cycles that seemed to be driven by psychos. The sun and wind in your face doesn’t feel so great and sexy anymore and you will of course be coming home with sunburn.

The days could be long and tiring. You walk around a lot. You’re constantly talking to people and taking photos where possible while trying to piece together the data you’re collecting to gain further insights that you can look into to get an even clear picture of the users and their environment. Also, most times than not, there won’t be “good” food in the field. You may try the local food which in itself is an adventure of different tastes and smells. How much you enjoy the culinary adventure is up to your level of openness and tolerance to new things.IMG_5352

some days are quite interesting like when you get offered a live chicken to take home by a participant

Evenings and sometimes nights are always spent documenting the day’s research work. You never want to miss anything critical and dumping of insights is always done best when the information is still fresh in your mind. It also helps advice some of the next days work out in the field. From the insights, what should you follow up on? Is something interesting that  was mentioned by a particular participant true to most if not all people in that region? etc

Data Synthesis

You’re back home now (read office). The next thing one has to do is to analyse the data collected out in the field. What stories is the data telling? What insights can you glean that will help advice the design work or the solution to the problem being tackled. This process takes up a lot of time and stickie notes. Of course you’re looking to design/build a solution that is relevant and will work for the target users and that will also tie in with the technology (or lack of) available to them. Sorting through the hastily scribbled notes out in the field, the more sensible ones made in the evenings and looking at some of the photos taken in the field and using that information to iterate on solutions is nerve racking.

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A typical synthesis session. Notice the amount of sticky notes used

Finally after dredging through the valley of the shadow of cluttered data you get meaningful insights. You then write up a nice, beautiful report or design draft and send it to the clients or use it for internal purposes.  Sometimes bases on the type of project you may also end up building a prototype based on the insights.It all depends on who you were carrying out the research for or why you were doing it.

So you see, it’s not always jet setting glamour in the world of UX research. Work….a lot of work is done! On the flip side, you do get to travel to new places, meet new people and make friends all over. The best bit though, at least for me is the learning curve. You get exposed to different cultures, your assumptions and sometimes opinions get challenged and you get to be more awesome!

NB: This is a general version of typical projects. Things tend to vary based on the project and deliverables promised to clients. The methods, tools, processes also change based on projects.

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Abby Written by:

Hi, I am a UX researcher based in Nairobi, Kenya. I am passionate about helping people create simple, innovative but USABLE and enjoyable products to solve social problems. The African context interests me as I believe Africans should be in the fore front of solving our own problems. I have a love affair with books and outdoor activities. Forever in search of adventure :)

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