A visit from the god of research

(Reading time: 2m, 33s)

I was lying on the couch yesterday, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about this research project I’m planning. (If you’re a new list member, you can read about my research questions over here.)

I’m going to explore the underlying Jobs donors and members hire (and fire) museums for. The goal is to uncover what deeper purposes museums serve for different kinds of constituents. A big part of the project will be interviewing members and donors. Most museums aren’t interviewing constituents. I want to see how much more they might learn if they were to go beyond their usual surveys.

Lying there, I revisited the question of whether I should conduct these interviews over video or if I should travel to people’s homes to talk with them in person. Interviewing over video is far more convenient, but talking with people in person — in their world — opens up new potential layers of meaning.

For example, if I learned that they donate or renew their membership online, I could ask them to show me how they do that on their own computer. I’d be able to see things like how they go about finding the page (do they use bookmarks? do they Google it? What else do they see when they search? …) and what obstacles they encounter along the way.

I watched a carpenter ant crawl across the ceiling.

Yes, I could have the people I interview walk me through all that, but that sounds a lot like the kind of the stuff I could do through remote user testing.

The ant crawled in one direction, stopped, then moved in another direction — over and over.

If I could interview that ant, how would she describe her experience of the ceiling?

I asked the ant, “Can you tell me about your last visit to the museum? Who were you with? What was it like that day?”

I watched my interview subject inch her way toward the window.

“Where were you when you decided to become a donor ant? Did you talk to your queen before you donated? Is she also a member?”

I wondered if people navigate museums as randomly as this ant wanders along the ceiling.

If I interview people in person, I could ask them to draw maps of their last visit to the museum. That could give some insight into what parts of their experience were most memorable, for better or for worse.

I sat up on the couch.

What would a composite of those maps look like, assuming, of course, they all were of the same museum?

Would it sort of be like one of the website heat maps I run, which shows where people click on a web page? But rather than reveal behavior online, this map would show something more like visitors’ emotional patterns within the physical space.

That could be an interesting experiment within the experiment. At the very least, it might get people to relax and open up a bit more.

Granted, there would inevitably be a lot of gaps in any hand drawn maps — whole sections of the museum would be blank; Everything would be out of scale; People’s memories are broken things. But that could all be dealt with — all data has to be interpreted.

I jumped up on the couch, gave the ant a high five, and returned to work.

Have an unusual weekend,

Kyle

researchKyle Bowenjtbd