Guerrilla research

(Reading time: 2m 31s)

Last week, I wrote about using autoresponders to survey subscribers or using that initial email, which is essentially an unused property for museums, as a way to initiate further interaction with an audience. (If you’re just joining us, here are parts one, two, three, four, and five.)

That series of emails led to a familiar place: I basically said, “It That series of emails led to a familiar place: I basically said, “It doesn’t have to be perfect — experiment.”

Depending on your perspective, that attitude may be haphazard and reckless or it is practical and necessary given the real-world constraints many organizations face.

I can see it both ways — it all depends on context — but my experience working for and with nonprofits make me my biased toward the latter.

As I write, I think about certain people on this list who may be interested in design research but don’t have either the resources or the power to pay for design research. Their only option may be to do it themselves.

I’ve been there.

To oversimplify things a bit, I can either say to people in that situation:

  1. “Here are all the ways you can do it wrong, and here are all the rules I’ve learned over the last 10 years, and here are the reasons why this is so much harder than you think,” or I can say …
  2. “Here are some essential ingredients for design research. You may burn some meals and even start a grease fire, but don’t let that stop you."

I tend to choose the latter because the real benefit of design research is that it can nudge people toward more evidence-based decisions. Data and systems-oriented thinking dispels gambling and guesswork.

In the long run, I think habits are what matters most — not the outcome of any single experiment or foray into research.

Yes, content design is hard. Content strategy is hard. User Research is hard. The more you know about anything the more you know you don’t know. Anyone who thinks this stuff is easy or cheap is naive.

But something is usually better than nothing.

Sure, software companies want to make things look easy. Survey companies want to make surveying easy; CMS providers want to make creating websites look easy; Email service providers want to make newsletters look easy.

Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Walnuts nail this in 21 seconds (NSFW - Language - but there are captions):


Tech companies don’t want you to think too hard about how complex it is to create valuable content or to do the tough relationship building necessary to provide value to an audience.

Of course none of it is easy — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t easier than ever before. Technology does make the cycle of failure and discovery faster than ever before, and I think that’s worth celebrating.

Data does not have to be perfect to be actionable or to reduce some degree of risk.

You can have results that are at once incomplete or questionable in some respects and actionable in others.

And for organizations that are struggling with serious time and capacity constraints, I’ll advocate for less-than-ideal, guerrilla research over perfected processes that never gets off the ground any day of the week.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen