Entries in Zarla Ludin (18)


Finding the Right Participants

I think it's safe to say that the most mundane part of my job is putting together a rock solid participant screener. Anticipating all the exciting research to be had once we've found the right participants is what pushes me through this process. In the past few weeks I've been in Screener Land--a dry place where the inhabitants dress in black and line up obediently against a white landscape-- and thought I would share some techniques on screener development.

1. Be explicit with logistics and instructions.

In the screener I include a participant matrix with desired quotas, and an introduction to the study. I wrap up each screener with a detailed invitiation script that includes: further details about the study, incentive information, recording, directions, and homework assignment (if applicable). I expect the recruiter to communicate all research details to the participant because often we are going into people's homes with a video camera. I've been in several situations where participants were caught off guard: "this wasn't expected." This American Life aired a piece about the fine print in contracts, referencing a myth that popstars like Madonna are highly demanding because they include line items like "all blue M&Ms must be removed from the candy jar" in their contracts. The reality is that these line items are included to ensure that the folks who are setting up the concert actually follow all directions to a tee: if blue M&Ms are in the candy jar, what other line items were overlooked? 

2. Write down who you want to recruit, and how samples might diverge based on behaviors, attitudes, and demographics.

When I talk with recruiters, I usually describe the desired sample in high-level ways: "Mostly young women who eat oatmeal every morning because (Group 1) they like the taste (Group 2) they believe it's good for them." I often find that this initial description (devoid of specifics, but that which captures the essence of who we want to recruit) is what sticks with recruiters, so be sure you are being adequately descriptive. Beyond that, I jot down on a sheet of paper how I might describe my sample in three different categories:

A. Behavior

  • Do they buy instant oatmeal or steel cut?
  • How many times a year do they go to Whole Foods?
  • How likely would they be to try a new kind of oatmeal?

B. Attitude

  • They believe that instant oatmeal doesn't provide the same health benefits as steel cut
  • They rank the taste of oatmeal higher than health benefits
  • They agree that oatmeal has changed over the past 5 years

C. Demographics

  • Mix of ages between 18-45
  • 80% female
  • Income range must fall between...

3. Don't reveal too much about what you want to study (unless you need to). Avoid making respondents hyper-aware of what population they might represent.

 When it comes to the topic at hand (oatmeal), I like to broaden it to a larger theme (breakfast food) and begin with questions that will eventually lead to oatmeal eaters. I try to continue the theme throughout the line of questioning.

BAD: We are working in conjunction with a client who wants to talk with oatmeal eaters.

GOOD: We are working in conjunction with a client who wants to know more about what you think about breakfast foods.

Avoid questions that compel a Yes or No response.

BAD: Do you eat oatmeal?

GOOD: I'm going to read a list of breakfast foods, which ones do you eat at least twice a week..."

Introduce options that may not be relevant to your study (in particular to behavior and attitude questions) to avoid serial participants.

BAD: I'm going to read a list of statements about breakfast foods...which ones apply to you?

GOOD: I'm going to read a list of statements about what is important to as a part of your morning routine...which ones apply to you?

4. Make edits, and let others make edits for you. Pilot your screener.

My process involves the unforgivable hardcopy print out. And dare-I-say, I opt for one-sided in this step. It's important for me to spread out the entire screener on a large table and think-aloud as I proceed through the screener logic. With my trusty orange Sharpie, I make changes big and small that will reduce confusion and ambiguity for the recruiter. With orange marker all over the screener, I hand it off to someone else on the research team who may be marginaly invovled in the project: they ALWAYS have great suggestions that leave me slapping my forehead. ALWAYS. Oh the power of working in teams! I then pilot the screener with someone who isn't in research so they can tell me if a particular question makes no sense.

5. Stay involved in the recruit, this allows you to ask more precise questions.

When I work with third party recruiters, I like to include "HOLD" questions that compell the recruiter to be in touch with me. This method works for me because third party recruiters I've worked with tend to recruit during the day anyway when I am accessible at my desk. These hold questions compel the recruiter to do their due diligence and find the right participants for the research. This technique also allows me to be a bit more nuanced in my line of questioning (i.e., more open-ended questions as opposed to multiple choice).

6. Validate your participants during the research session.

Knowing that I have the right person doesn't end when I receive a schedule of participants. The first line of questioning I employ during the research aims to validate some of the assertions the participant made in the screener itself. Face-to-face questioning often yields more candid responses that will help you identify if someone is a true representative of your population, or someone who simply slipped through the cracks.


Anthropology is The Worst College Major: A Rebuttal

[photo credit: toothpaste for dinner comic]

I follow a few online resources geared toward anthropologists. The Yahoo group Anthrodesign is an energetic email list with academics and applieds alike, asking real world questions, making global connections, and sharing stories. I also like to read a Collection by Fran Barone called anthro, which is probably the only reason why I might consider calling myself a "blog reader."

About a year ago, the big story in anthropology was the debate of its standing as a science. More recently, the big issue is whether or not anthropology deserves the number one spot for worst college major for your career. Kiplinger's recent slideshow (glitchy, ugly, difficult to navigate, ergo not worth the time I will actually spend to scrutinize) confidently states in its accompanying blurb that "[i]f foreign cultures are your thing, a major in international relations promises both a higher salary and lower unemployment rate."

One dimensional, uninformed, and clearly only using success metrics from websites like to find all the world's anthropologists and pay scales, I decided to add to the plethora of rebuttals out there (this is my favorite) with my take on why I find anthropology to be one of the best college majors for one's career. Below are my top 3:

  1. Anthropology taught me how to write. While some students in college took test after test, I was writing essay after essay. As a biological anthropology major, many of my exams were lab practicals sifting through bone fragments. Rather than selecting a multiple choice response to what I was seeing, these practicals were accompanied by essay writing: describing what I see and interpreting what might be happening or what might have been. These writing skills have been fundamental in my career because I must clearly communicate my thoughts and tell compelling stories.
  2. Talking to people is second nature. I don't feel anxiety, stress, or self-consciousness when I speak to people. I have found this to be particularly useful when presenting my work to a room full of people who should know more about what I am saying than I do. This skill has also been useful in my work, the cornerstone of which consists of talking to people.
  3. I didn't need to become an anthropologist. In my introduction to cultural anthropology course, one of the teacher's assistants proudly declared that in order to find a job as an anthropologist (e.g.. in academics), someone would have to die. It took me a while to reconcile this fact: I was studying toward a seemingly non-lucrative career, yet it was a field I truly loved. I know physicians, economists, musicians, chefs, film directors, and even real-life anthropologists.

Kiplinger's snapshot analyses is not only inaccurate but borders on irresponsible. Take a peek at some of the other college majors deemed worst for your career. In my opinion, those considered the worst teach critical thinking, require bravery and a bit of risk to pursue (all admirable qualitites in the workforce), as well as spark innovation, and new ways of problem solving. Maybe those are success criteria by which we should be examining college majors.



HFES Healthcare Symposium: Bridging the Gap

[image credit:]

Healthcare is a notoriously convoluted system with many intangible issues dictated by deep-rooted cultures and significant power structures. Human factors is a discipline with the reputation of being vague, yet with tactical applications: validate this, make that safe, etc. At this year’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s Health Care Symposium, the theme of “bridging the gap,” for me, meant bringing together our knowledge of complex healthcare problems in an attempt to find the most meaningful way to address those problems.

Our natural reaction to complex, large problems is to simplify them. At the symposium, I saw presentations that did just that: a presenter used multi-variate analysis to distill conversation weaknesses into clear cut themes, another used generalizing language without site-specific implications, and many others pulled frameworks of understanding from other disciplines to explain observed phenomena. But does this desire to simplify the healthcare landscape accurately reflect its reality? In this symposium, three big-picture (and very complex) issues came up frequently—compliance, obscurity, and fundamentalism—for which simple sweeping analyses could not be put in place.


During a panel discussion on challenges in home health care, Dr. Eric Dejonge of Washington Hospital Center said that the “biggest human factors challenge is getting people to take their medication.” Mary Brady of the FDA added that part of the reason why in-home treatment is so difficult is because patients in need of home healthcare don’t necessarily consider themselves sick, rather they view themselves as “aging in the home.”

Chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, which require sustained long-term care (i.e. treatment therapies, home assistance) are a big financial strain on the healthcare system (and on family caregivers). Remedied through medication and lifestyle adjustments, it can be difficult to get patients to fully comply with treatment because it brings into question their autonomy, and without many acute symptoms, they’ve become accustomed to a different quality of life.

Human factors professionals are crucial in highlighting significant patient-initiated barriers that impact the design and development of medical devices and applications. The essential message behind patient compliance is that just because something is designed to be safe and effective, doesn’t ensure it will change a patient’s likelihood to use/leverage it. However, because compliance is a well-known problem, we can begin to understand it and create solutions to approach it (accountability features, gaming mechanics to encourage participation, etc.)


Being such a large entity, the minutiae of everyday events in healthcare become lost or condensed into generalizations of “how the system works.” How can human factors attempt to lift this veil of obscurity and identify the real problems that need to be solved? One way of doing it is expanding our methodology toolkit.

In sociology, there is a field of study called ethnomethodology, which looks at large systems of structure that maintain societal order. Ethnomethodological studies uncover the real problem that exists in society, not just the problem that makes it into record-keeping. For example, what may be recorded at a hospital is the incidence of a particular illness, to which our natural inclination is to find a solution for that illness. Ethnomethodology attempts to examine the motivations behind how that illness became a recorded event in the first place.

Ken Catchpole of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center presented an example of how adverse events (recorded mistakes) become documented. In this process of documenting an adverse event, what doesn’t get captured is what he deems “the more important close-call.” That is, the event that could have become adverse. In a subtle way he references a need for ethnomethodology to understand the healthcare landscape. In this case, he suggests that we need to solve the “close call” episodes using our human factors expertise, and not simply the recorded adverse events.


No complex system, like healthcare, is complete without structures in place that allow it to operate. The key quality of these structures is having a hard line perspective on “what works” and a resistance to changing the status quo. This resistance is most visceral when introducing new technology into a clinical setting; however, it is also seen in the human-to-human relationships and interactions.

Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health talked about the individualism stronghold among doctors, which enables a culture of disrespect in clinical settings. Disrespect, he argues, is rampant and widely the norm. At the same time, clinical settings have evolved into teamwork-reliant systems. However doctors are trained to make executive decisions, trumping all other input streams, should they feel the need. The legacy of individualism in a teamwork setting makes other team members feel bad about their work, discredits their efforts, and leads to a breakdown in communication. It has been demonstrated that these seemingly small interpersonal issues have a greater impact, which can compromise patient safety.


“Bridging the gap” for me, meant bridging the gap between the obtuse landscape in which healthcare human factors specialists must operate, and the desire to have simple and actionable solutions. Dr. Leape, in his highly inspirational and eye-opening speech, also mentioned that as treatment and clinical environments have gotten safer, they have introduced layers of involvedness that impact healthcare professionals and therefore patients. As human factors specialists, we need to leverage our notoriously vague disciplinary standing and attempt to identify complex issues and weaknesses in the system, and solve them in the most impactful way (which may not be a design or development solution, for example). This symposium was a great first step in getting folks to reexamine the utility of human factors and what it means in this setting: rather than being unnervingly vague, it can be refreshingly open.


Putting the Cart Before the Horse? Social Media for Innovation


Using social media as a tool to generate insights and innovation can be generative, or it can bog you down in mounds of data with no effective or resourceful way to do meaningful analysis. This was my biggest takeaway from the MIT Enterprise Forum panel From Social Insights to Social Innovation. The panelists included Betsy Aoki (Bing), Ekaterina Walter (Intel), Nathaniel Perez (SapientNitro), Marcus Nelson (Salesforce), and moderated by Francois Gossieaux (Human 1.0), and was peppered with social media anecdotes, a few swear words and a slight air of cyncism. Maybe cynicism is a strong word, but I walked away with the sense that in using social media for innovation, we're putting the cart before the horse. We're celebrating a solution to a problem that isn't quite understood.

 The panelists at the MIT Enterprise Forum's discussion From Social Insights to Social Business Innovation, September 21, 2011


The problem we are trying to solve is that we need to come up with great ideas faster, and these ideas need to be beautiful and more in-tune with consumers (because consumers are getting more thoughtful about design). Social media has played a key role in certain facets of product development and redesign. For instance, Betsy Aoki gave the example of eliciting user feedback through social media streams to help fix bugs in initial launches of Xbox Live. However, when the conversation came down to using social media for the purposes of innovation, we got some great one-liners like:

If you pay people $100 to give you ideas, you will get ideas worth $100.

It's death by committee...if you get a lot of ideas, you're going to get a lot of stupid ones you need to weed out.

Social media for innovation is, in its simplest form, an opportunistic use of a well-established and genius appratus for bringing people together. There is already a captive audience that has selected to rally behind your brand (friended you on Facebook, etc.), and to many marketing/design/user experience folks, it seems wasteful to ignore this captive audience. However, social media for the purposes of driving innovation is forgetting one of its foundational principles: the element of surprise! Maybe I'm biased, but I'm all about contextual research, which attempts to seek out those surprises that we could never get through a structured entity that opens the floodgates to data points (not real insights or great ideas). The biggest challenge to the panel is figuring out what to measure in the plethora of data they get through social media. As of right now, what they know they can measure is engagement (how many times people talk about the brand, engage with the Facebook page, etc.) But in terms of sifting through data to find ideas, it's still nebulous. 

Innovation or marketing ploy?

The panel briefly touched on some more successful attempts to reach into the crowd to get good ideas. I won't name names, but some big corporations with newfound interests in sustainability and responsible design have been using social media to reach out, pleading with customers that they need help solving 'big problem x.' Come to find out, many of these pleas have nothing to do with any arm of that corporation that deals with innovation, rather, they are just big marketing campaigns. This plea is just a way to get consumers ramped up behind the brand's new messaging and to test the waters for launching new ideas already created internally. Sneaky, huh? According to the panel, what makes engagement with these faux-innovation initiatives so successful is the fact that they have a dedicated purpose, often use a platform that reaches out to people full of good ideas and have boundaries (deadlines, rules). Sadly, many of these faux-innovation intiatives end up hitting a wall because they were created for the sole purpose of delivering a message, not implementing the crowd-sourced ideas.

So what's the big lesson? Is social media useless when it comes to gathering meaningful insights that could lead to innovation? I'm not yet convinced of its utility. But I do think we should stick with what we know about social media for now: it's a great way to get people to like your brand and want to get to know you. It's very human.


A side note...

As an aside, in this discussion, there was a lot of reference to 'early man' as an explanation for much of the social behavior that we've identified as interesting to design around. For example, the claim that "we humans love status and power" is interpreted from the archaic descriptive social behavior of "seeking out better mates and better food." We love to assert these claims because it gives us permission to be self-defeatist about our 'baser' pursuits. Does saying that we love status and power therefore allow us to pursue status and power with the same zeal that early man would toward better mates and food? I just wonder what's the point of looking backward to explain the contemporary, and possibly inform the future. It's just bad science: we define who we are today by looking at the past. But since we didn't live in the past, we can only understand the past if we've defined it...we're defining something which is based on something that's defined. 


Social Science Recap [July 15-July 29, 2011]

Sorry for the delay!

Social Science Recap--July 15-July 29, 2011 Interesting internet finds linking anthropology, sociology, psychology (other ologies) to design, user experience, and technology. In this post: ethnography iPhone app, does Google+ have the more accurate Social Networking approach? Designing for culturally iconic products.

Ethnographic data gathering using your iPhone! Ethos, an iPhone app started by ethnographer Siamack Salari, was just relaunched.The app allows companies looking to do consumer research, reach out to their customers to submit videos of the way that products, brands, services, and other experiential information on these topics fit into their lives. Ethos is offering a 30-day free trial, so jump on it--it's a pretty penny without the deal!

A review of Google+ on Fast Company. Referencing the input of social science that informed the Circles feature in Google+.  SIDE NOTE: I am so not impressed by numbers. Numbers are relative, so why is it that we gasp and applaud at the rapid adoption by 10 million people of Google+? I wouldn't expect anything less from such a ubiquitous entity...let's come up with some new metrics that can gauge success, or whatever message we're trying to convey.

Moleskine: Designing for Cultural Objects. Tricia Wang of CulturalBytes talks about Moleskine's new line of auxiliary products to support the iconic notebook. She ponders about other iconic objects that speak to our culture and what can be designed for them to support it's cultural ecosystem.


Social Science Recap [June 30-July 14, 2011]

Social Science Roundup--June 30-July 14, 2011 Interesting internet finds linking anthropology, sociology, psychology (other ologies) to design, user experience, and technology. In this post: proving 'retail therapy' as a method to fix negative feelings, useful mechanics for cooperative gaming, authentic materialism, sustainability barriers, and culture influences biological studies...

There is a reason why the term 'retail therapy' exists. A recent study by Atalay and Meloy in Psychology and Marketing shows that a person's bad mood does increase the number of spontaneous purchases one makes. Stopping oneself from using shopping as a form of therapy to feel better is only successful if stopping oneself improves mood.

Game mechanics to enhance cooperation. Travis Ross at Motivate.Play wrote an interesting blog post on game mechanics that can be used to satisfy gamers who want to partake in "unselfish play." Real life social dilemmas such as pollution, and overuse of non-renewable resources generally are spawned from doing what is best for ourselves and not necessarily what is best for others. Known as the n-player social dilemma, acting selfishly may have negative consequences for society at large. Ross explores game mechanics, adopted from social science theory to inform the design for cooperative games.

Stories of objects you love. The Portland Museum recently launched a website chronicling people and the objects they love. It makes me think about the random things I love, and why--like my sewn-together green Care Bear that my mom made for me before I was born. That thing is tattered, but sitting on my bed stand!

American need for space in conflict with sustainable design? Katherine Frederich claims, on Scientific American, that American's need for personal space is in direct conflict with major charges by environmentalists: reusing something, and minimizing non-renewable energy consumption. People don't want to buy clothes that other people have worn because it's seem as a violation of hygienic standards, and people want to live outside of the city for some peace and quiet. She offers a couple of solutions to these two problems, but takes a very one-dimensional view into what environmentalism is all about.

Gender and sports. Rosemary Joyce (awesome anthropologist at UC Berkeley, I listen to her iTunes U Podcast!) recently posted an article on genderizing sports, on her blog. Differentiating the sexes in sports is probably a recent phenomena (maybe late 19th century). Sport was all about competition, which promoted excess--a masculine trait. The bottom line is that suddenly biological (empirical) studies were coming out supporting the claim that men's and women's muscles are different and thus sport competition should be different for both. Just goes to show the power of culture over something like biology shaping lived reality. My favorite quote from those early studies was that women have more "expressive muscles," which are better suited for making "elegant movements."


Social Science Recap [June 15-29, 2011]

Social Science Roundup--June 15-June 29, 2011 Interesting internet finds linking anthropology, sociology, psychology (other ologies) to design, user experience, and technology. In this post: apps that show you that you're a blabber mouth. Claims can become fact pretty easily, a case of a scholar being called out. Channel your inner Zack Morris/Jessie Spano and check out old technology. Tall grass jewelry? And many more...

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