Guerrilla Research is Hard

There’s a lot to be said about Guerrilla research in UX. Todd Zaki Warfel and Russ Unger have a great summary of the practice. Over the last few years, I have lost my edge at guerrilla tactics. I have been sheltered by a larger organization and my research has tended to be methodical and refined. All that has since changed. I’m working in a smaller team – a UX team of One. And my priorities have changed. I am no longer one of many designers part of a team. I need to balance my time and efforts while holding onto one of the key pillars I believe in – client and user involvement and feedback.

So where does that leave me? At the time I am writing this I am sitting in a Starbucks down the street from my office. I have a stack of simple scripts to follow in one hand and $5 gift cards in the other. I am eyeing every person who walks in trying to decide if they are quickly grabbing a coffee or setting up camp. Can I time my approach to be friendly while allowing them to get settled (but not so settled that they are already doing their own work)?

I’ve been here just over an hour. And I’ve been equally rejected and allowed to conduct some research. Each time the other person has been friendly, understanding, and very helpful. So what have I learned?



Be Honest

First and foremost introduce who you are. Ask if the potential participant has a few minutes and explain what you are looking to do. Be courteous and understanding when they say no.

Get used to rejection.

Speaking of saying NO. They will. Often. It’s nothing against you. People come to coffee shops for coffee, to work, to meet with friends and not to be distracted by other people (that’s why they left their office in the first place)

Look before you speak

Does the person want to be bothered? Do they have headphones in? Are they clearly meeting someone? These people are putting up a flag “leave me alone” or “i’m here for a reason”. Respect that and choose someone else to approach. Similarly, avoid people who are eating or have sandwiches. (I made this mistake and felt horrible the entire session since the participant said yes to helping out.)

Keep it Simple

Keep your task simple. If it takes more than 10 minutes to perform your task you are taking up too much time. Run through the tasks once or twice in your office first to time it out.

Be Flexible

Where in research labs you want to stick to the script, remember this is guerrilla research. Any information is good information and these community members are helping YOU.

Money Talks

It’s amazing how far a $5 gift card can go. Mention that you have it at the start of the conversation and be sure to thank them and give them the gift at the end. I put my business card in with the gift cards in case they have any questions. This is a great way to build credibility. I’m torn between giving the incentive at the start of the session or after. I want to believe giving it at the end is a nice way to close the conversation.

Write Large

Typical research sessions have a moderator and a notetaker. In this case you are more likely going it alone. Write fast, write large, and when you get back to the office copy it all down while it’s still fresh so you can actually read it later.

In Conclusion

There is a lot more about guerrilla research I can write. And a lot that has already been written. I write this as a reflection on this morning’s activities and a way to learn where I can improve and hone my skills.

What are you lessons learned from the quick and dirty research? What would you share?

1 Response to “Guerrilla Research is Hard”

  1. 1 review December 10, 2013 at 3:30 am

    Howdy! This post coulԁn’t bе written any bettеr!
    Reading thіs post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forωarԁ this write-uρ to him. Pretty surе he will have a good read.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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