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E-commerce Link : Research 101

How to avoid common pitfalls in guerilla research recruiting

November 2012 By Cristin Siegel
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Like many of my columns, the inspiration for this comes from my day-to-day life at an interactive agency. We currently have the pleasure of working with a industrial gas company—helping it re-organize its public-facing Web content, and redesigning the site to make it both more usable and more engaging.

If you're anything like me, you've probably never given even a moment's thought to industrial gas; which, in my opinion, makes the redesign process all the more exciting—an information architecture (IA) challenge. So just for the sake of context, companies like my client supply gasses to a wide variety of industries—to preserve foods, improve the efficiency of industrial processes, treat hospital patients and even put the fizz in soft drinks.

When we initially planned and estimated the site redesign work, we wanted to be sure to include both discovery research and usability evaluation as part of our project scope. I'm a strong believer in user-centered design practices, particularly when site content is so far from the realm of familiar for our designers. We also were mindful of the fact that our research activities would have to be conducted efficiently and not break our client's available budget. This is a big site and a large project. The money set aside has to cover the entire development lifecycle and, therefore, this could not turn into a research bonanza.

All this being the case, when scoping early discovery sessions we agreed with our client to recruit from existing customer lists rather than spending the money to source participants through a third-party market research firm. Not only would customer participants be more accurate and representative users than those coming from cold calls and canned databases, but we already had access to their contact information—or so we thought.

When it actually came time to access those customer lists and set up our card sort sessions, our client's sales team was adamant about not sharing their hard-earned customer contacts. They understandably didn't want to jeopardize the relationships they'd nurtured for the sake of our website research. Before we knew it, my agency was on the hook for finding friends and family to participate in our tests.

I don't know about you, but my friends and family are Web designers, school teachers, business consultants and librarians—I even know a marine biologist. But these people, as smart and talented as they are, know nothing about using hydrogen to produce cleaner burning gasoline and diesel fuels. The last time my husband thought about nitrogen was in memorizing the periodic table for his high school chemistry final. All of this got me thinking about how we can best set ourselves up for research success when the research topic requires participants to have such a unique knowledge base.

 
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