The First Impression
As any bartender will tell you, first impressions can play a key role in the experience of the bar guests. A bartender who appears stressed, upset, or tired can lead to a quiet, keep to yourself experience for the guest, which likely will not keep them coming back. However, a bartender who is happy, talkative, asks questions, and entertains his or her guests can make and maintain “regulars” quite easily. So how does this apply to research? Well, part of conducting good qualitative research is first impression or the perception that the participant initially has of the researcher. A good researcher understands how to portray an approachable, kind, and curious demeanor, which hopefully instills comfort in their participant. This will enable the participant to be more open and honest with the researcher, thus improving the likelihood of quality feedback. In moderated usability sessions, especially those in a lab, it is important to make participants feel comfortable quickly; sessions typically do not go longer than an hour and the researcher must try to get as much valuable information as possible in that time. Participants who “shell up” because of a laboratory setting can provide some difficulty when trying to extract valuable, honest feedback.
Advice for researcher: be aware of your mannerisms and appearance — make participants feel comfortable and be empathetic. Do some introspection — how would you feel in that environment with a stranger? What would make you feel more comfortable? How would you want someone talking to you about the topic or product?
Adjusting & Reacting
Another important quality of a strong bartender is learning to adjust and react to guests and the bar environment. How do you manage guests that range from an older couple coming in for a quiet drink and dinner to a bachelor party taking shots, and still provide an appropriate and enjoyable experience to both parties? What happens if you have a full bar and run out of your important well liquors? As we know, most humans can be vastly different and most environments can provide surprises. This experience is similar for research. How do you extract valuable information from the range of unique participants? What about when the prototype you are working with breaks half way through a study? The ability to adjust and react quickly to keep participants and studies on track is an important quality of a strong researcher. Especially as development methods become more and more agile, a researcher must ensure that the most value is extracted given a short amount of time and budget. There is nothing that makes a product team pass up on future research more than a study that goes haywire.
Advice for researcher: have a back up plan and be ready to react to anything that happens during a study. It is usually expensive and time consuming to run a study so be well prepared and quick on your feet. You can read plenty of examples in Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories.
The end of a dining or drinking experience can be as important as the beginning. This is when guests have gathered and finalized their impressions of the experience. This tends to be the moment that a strong bartender can change a once-in-a-while experience into a regular guest or someone who is likely to recommend the bar. The same holds true for research participants. They have now gained a perception of the product or prototype that they are using, which includes a perception of the brand or company. Many participants leave sessions excited about the new product and happy that a company is interested in listening — this can lead to a positive brand image and even help drive awareness and loyalty.
Advice for researcher: end the session strong — provide a positive lasting impression on participants. Let them know you will be taking their feedback into consideration. You may be surprised, but this can help awareness and loyalty of a product or company.