I’ve begun reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood. Early on, he describes a series of school trips to Beaulieu in the New Forest, where he and other children observed and documented the flora and fauna of a 3 by 2 mile area. I’m in awe of what his biology teacher set up, and the apparent enthusiasm of his pupils.
Of the many finds that they made, one in particular struck me: they discovered that a small, rare type of buttercup, myosurus minimus, thrived in the corrals at Beaulieu, but only in the spring. By the autumn, there was no evidence of its existence, nor that of any other plants.
It struck me that a quick bit of research done between the time after the ponies had been through the corrals and before the following spring, would lead one to the conclusion that there was no plant life in the corrals. However, dedicated, meticulous research revealed something quite different: a rare plant that thrives in the corrals but nowhere else in the forest.
It’s a lesson that can be taken to user research, and any other domain that relies on data. In a previous life, I have a recollection of being urged to rely on numbers that I knew to be false: better to have some numbers than none at all. However, the danger of sketchy research, and relying on limited data is made very clear through this botanical discovery. I see poor data, and poor interpretation of data, almost daily. The poor data is usually the result of setting up the data discovery phase incorrectly.
When, at MEX/16, I heard horror stories of product development decisions still being made based on interviews with just one or two people, I winced: I don’t think it’s possible to make good decisions with so few data points. Nothing pleases more than having many people tell me something isn’t working for them. Confirmation from multiple independent sources gives me the confidence to prioritise and to address the stuff that matters.
Part of Friday Inspirations, an ongoing MEX series exploring tangents and their relationship to better experience design. We explain the origins of the Inspirations series in this MEX podcast and article. Share your own inspirations on Twitter at #mexDTI.