Part 1: Whatever happened to discovery?

Some backstory

After graduating with an International Business degree from a great uni I had high ambitions. However it was 2009 and the global financial crisis had just hit everything, most grad schemes had closed for applications.

There was also a general election 2010 and the government department where I completed my industrial work placement was closed down as part of the spending review – all the people I worked with were made redundant or let go. Many good people were looking for work it was a tough time to be a graduate.

Anyway, after months being unemployed doing the job-centre-thing and contacting many employers every single day, eventually I got lucky landing my first job out of uni as a temp research worker at the niche kids research and games design agency Dubit.

Over 4 years, I learnt the ropes took on more challenging projects and was very fortunate to work with big media brands such as Channel 4, Sky, EDF Energy and Random House publishing (and many others just to name a few).

What was most fortunate about this job, was not the clients, but the research team who at the time (around 2010) were really top of the user-insight game. They strongly believed that using mixed-methods, co-creation/user-centred design and working in close collaborations with their clients was the best way to deliver successful products and services to market. Although it was only a small team, it was a very exciting the time.

How to discover

One particular project I gladly remember was conducting twenty in-home immersive interviews to study children’s mobile gaming habits, lifestyles and entertainment interests for a media company.

The client was exploring a “new app” in the fast-growing kids games segment at the time. Of course the client didn’t want to be named in case any competition found out about the research/app. From the start all the app designs and research stimulus contained a funky project codename. Their app wasn’t production ready at all, only a proof of concept (very basic with some embedded free games like Tetris / minesweeper).

I travelled all over the country to moderate these two-hour sessions in family homes – after some introductions with parents and talking through the project brief, we’d do a few warm-up activities before letting their kids loose on the ‘new app’. After 20-minutes only this new app had spoken for itself – kids had got bored quickly and wanted to return to their own iPads.

I’d then let the session flow into discovery and explore the plethora of 2D/3D immersive freemium games that were available at the time. Unsurprisingly most parents were not bothered by content guidelines so six years old kids could easily be playing games aged 10+. As long as the kids weren’t buying things in the App store and their parents could take a break, everyone was happy.

While doing these in-home discovery/testing sessions, it was important to be ready with lots of backup activities for when the “app testing” ended.

E.g. a “Day in the life of challenge”… or an Argos catalogue moodboard. Can you group together all the toys and games they have into new/used, or talk about which characters you like/dislike, or what things do you want for Christmas? what games are kids at school playing? etc… with the consent from parents we may view kids online history or YouTube playlists, to see what they are routinely searching for (and so what brands they see most often).

When we played back the “app testing” research to the client team it was clear this app would have performed pretty badly in it’s current form. This led to more intrigue around what we had learnt during the discovery, our evidence prompted a rethink for the client’s product design.

Further co-creation work with real end users was conducted at the in-house games development studio; eventually some new ideas became a real thing that required proper usability testing… and so circling back around insight from this throw-away-app gave rise to a much more successful product that is still available today (almost 10 years later)!

… Continue to part 2