This week in our design research methods class, we have been trying out participatory design, a research method in which the researcher actively attempts to involve stakeholders in the design process. Our class is just beginning this project, so our job currently is to help our participants define the problem space as well as get a feel for what possible solutions for their pain points would feel like. This will help us to make actionable insights and design criteria for our project.
My team in particular has been focusing on learning which factors influence consumers’ purchasing and eating of different cuts of meat. Consequently, we tried out two different but closely related participatory design methodologies. For our first three participatory design interviews, we had our subjects save their meat offcuts from any meals prepared between when we contacted them and our interview. We used those offcuts as a jumping-off point for discussing which parts of an animal they considered to be desirable as food and why. Next, we had our participants create a journey map of the last time they prepared a meal that included meat, all the way from the meal occuring to them through clean up. This allowed us to go in depth about their motivations and emotions during each step of the process. Finally, we asked our participants to create an idealized journey map that had all the same steps as the first map. However, for this map our participants selected images from a set prepared by Leah McDougald. For each step, they had to select an image that represented what that action would ideally be like and what it ideally would not be like. This, again, allowed us to focus on our participants’ desired emotional resonance for each step in dealing with meat.
At the suggestion of our teacher, Jonathan Lewis, we changed things up for our final participatory design interview by having our participant complete a different homework assignment. Rather than holding on to her offcuts, we asked our participant to go to the grocery store meat section where she normally shops and take 10 photos of things she had not eaten before, 10 photos of things she ate frequently, and 10 photos of things she wished she ate more often. We evidently did not explain this assignment well enough as our participant took photos from every section of the grocery store, not just the section with the animal products. However, she did get some photos from the sections we were interested in, and that did help to prompt a conversation about what she eats and does not eat. However, I’ve got to say that the most exciting part of the interview for me was when she unprompted began describing the barrels of food at the old markets in New Orleans that her mother and grandmother used to tell her about. It was so clear that this was her ideal, a visceral, sensual shopping experience.
Though these interviews yielded rich results, they could have been better. I found myself sometimes asking leading questions such as, “Do you like X?” rather than the more neutral phrasing, “What do you think about X?” We also gave our participants sticky notes with suggested steps in the meat consumption process on them. My thinking as someone who comes from an education background is that people often need scaffolding in new types of creative activities, but our teacher Lauren Serota suggested that we just let people state the steps in their own words, and that worked fine as well. We probably received similarly detailed descriptions using both methods, but by letting our participants write their own steps we got more insight into which steps they thought were important. Lastly, we need to do better as a team about arriving at interview sites early so that we can do the pre-interview checklist suggested by the design thought leader Steve Portigal. We sometimes entered interviews a bit flustered, which did not appear professional.