[Note: Today’s word for the day is misanthropic.  Let’s say that again – “misanthropic”.]

I’m a user researcher who isn’t doing any user research.

What’s stopping me?

Laziness? Lack of passion or internal motivation?  No budget?  The company isn’t receptive towards user-centered design innovation?  I’m waiting for approval to hire collaborators?

Wimpy-ass excuses.

What’s stopping me is I’m afraid of recruiting participants.

Apparently, to the point of paralysis.

This is my first time working as a one-woman team.  I used to do everything a research project requires EXCEPT recruitment, since I came from research agencies where you hired a team of recruiters to do the respondent-gathering for you.

But, see, user research usually employs “guerilla research” tactics.  Low budget, man-on-the-street type, fast-turnaround time qualitative projects.

Turns out I’m afraid of asking people to participate.

I freeze up.  I rehearse phrases in my head then weakly walk back-and-forth till I work up the courage.

My friends who read this will probably find this really, really odd.

Most people who know me assume that I’m an extrovert.  I’m annoyingly talkative, loud; my hobbies involve performing arts and showmanship, and my profession is “consumer research” (a job that makes you talk to groups of people and establish rapport on command).

You can look at the personality tests I’ve taken, or ask my closest friends and my immediate family — I’m not.

I’m an introvert.  Not in the I’m-a-bashful-wallflower sense, but in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sense.

I like taking things apart and seeing why they work.  One of my best friends said that you could see that that’s how I am as a researcher.   I’m not an empath, like many of my friends from work.  The energy is really different when they talk to people – they’re warm, almost motherly, you open up to them because they’re like friends you haven’t seen in years.

Me, I get giddy – colleagues who’ve observed me say that my focus groups are “exciting”, but tiring.  It’s like an eating binge – I get this frenzied drive to ask people about themselves to learn about what they like, what they do, how things makes sense.

And that’s why I love consumer research – because human interests are complex, and very challenging to find logic in, but there are patterns and deviations and flows and stories.  It’s beautiful.

I love talking to people.  I naturally have this itch to go up to people and ask about their phones, their clothes, why they like things, what they’re afraid of.  I love that.

But, for the past years, I’ve been trained in a kind of market research that says when you interview people, participants should not be able to “read” you, so they aren’t biased by how they perceive you.  That you should be a relatively “blank slate” — “blend in” as much as possible, so that you don’t stick out and be the point of conversation.  Which is hard for me, because I’m a generally gregarious person.

This is why I’m curious about and want to learn how danah boyd does research while retaining her creative individuality.

Photo by Brooke Nipar

I realized that I freeze up when trying to recruit people for research studies because I’m afraid of how to ask to get them to agree.

I’m afraid of rejection – of the rate of refusal versus the daunting volume of work.

Why be afraid of rejection?  Because I’m looking at approaching people with the mindset that I’ll be asking them to participate in a cultural probe where I’ll be observing your behavior for a period of time blah blah blah

I’m thinking of them as “participants”.  That I have to put on a mask of “normalcy”, and try to establish “rapport” and get them to formally agree to be “studied”.

I’m not thinking of them as well…people.  I love watching and asking friends about what they watch, what they read and what they like about them.  I enjoy watching them use their phones and play games, because I know them, they know me and I’m comfortable doing that.

As a “researcher”, I’ve begun to dwell too much on the formality of all, when in fact, what I love about user research and user-centered design is that it’s needs-oriented, people-oriented.  That it doesn’t just look at individuals as people to sell to, but people to service.

I’m having a hard time because I have this feeling that I’m supposed to switch to some gorillas-in-the-mist mode and be this relatable Everywoman.

Yet again, I am trying to present some studied version of myself, instead of just letting my interest and love for the job drive me.  I should just be able to be me, and still interview people.

Yes, life, I will try to stop over-analyzing.

I hope this helps me.  We’ll see how my studies progress in a few weeks.


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