Researching solo? Never again.

After one month into the second quarter of AC4D I have one big takeaway: doing design researching solo is the worst. Don’t do it.

I learned this lesson the hard way. At the start of this quarter I decided not to pair with another student for research. I thought I had good reason to do so. I wanted to pursue a unique topic: how food is distributed to low-income families through food pantries. Also, I desired the flexibility and nimbleness that is inherent in working alone. Arranging and executing meetings is significantly easier when there is one less schedule to factor in.

However, my perceptions of researching without a partner changed once I got onto the field. I quickly discovered how hard it was to capture data when I was completely occupied with trying to facilitate a meaningful conversation. Attempting to juggle asking questions, taking notes, and snapping pictures proved to be an almost impossible task. I was constantly frustrated by the lack of data points I was able to capture in each interview.

Things became even worse in the synthesis process. I found that a lack of another perspective meant I was frequently getting into mental ruts. It was extremely hard to effectively navigate through the overwhelming amounts of research data without someone else to provide balance and focus.

Thankfully, I have recently been able to pair up with Jonathan who is also researching low-income individuals. Having another brain involved in the synthesis and ideation process is proving to be invaluable. I find that our combined effort allows us to synthesize data at an exponentially higher rate than doing it alone.

While working alone enabled me to easily get to people, it made it significantly more difficult to record and synthesize the resulting data. As such I am now convinced of the value of having another person with you both on the field and back in the research war room. Next time I do design research I’m going to make it a priority to have someone else at my side.


This is a very important thing to note for those new to design research. It is nearly impossible to note-take effectively if that is your ONLY task during a research session. Ideally, there will be three distinct roles in the field: 1. the moderator 2. the note-taker 3. the capturer/equipment handler.

Should you ever be in this position again, I’d suggest videotaping all your sessions and not worrying at all about capturing notes while you’re moderating. It will take twice the time for you personally, as you’ll need to go back through the videos to capture notes, but it will make for much better data if you are focused on conversation with the participant.

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