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Field Reports

Bose Research on Amplifying Traditional Fieldwork and Exploring the Experimental

How Bose leveraged dscout to prime and prep for field work—and deepened their insights as a result.  

Words by Tony Ho Tran, Visuals by Emma McKhann

Whether it’s the noise-cancelling headphones that you wear on your commute, the bluetooth speaker that you play at parties, or the pair of audio-enabled sunglasses that you bust out for beach day—Bose products require a load of rigorous field and ethnographic work to design.

As they strive to provide value for their users in new and unexpected ways, their Innovation Insights team acknowledges that in-field work alone can’t cover all the bases. There’s a ton of potential data and insights left on the table if you limit yourself to a traditional research tactics.

Enter dscout.

We talked to Bose’s Sara Ulius-Sabel about how the company leverages remote-mobile research to complement their other tools and tactics—a supplement critical to unearthing insights they couldn’t otherwise attain.

Sara is...

… a Senior Researcher at Bose working with a small team of Innovation Insights researchers who are focused on the fuzzy front-end of product development.

Innovation Insights at Bose is...

… grounded in human experiences. The company is always looking for new ways to add value for their users and this team helps that happen. “There’s a big focus on making things that inspire and enable people to reach their potential, whatever that might be.”

The Challenge

At a company like Bose, meeting their users’ needs means remaining on the forefront of innovation. That requires a laser-like focus on their users in order to create designs that work for them.

“In my albeit brief time here, there’s been a surprising focus on people and making sure that the things we’re designing make sense for them,” says Sara. To accomplish that, Bose leans on field and ethnographic research to get into their users’ mindsets. While these tried and true methods are great ways to uncover insights, they also offer a myriad of challenges that threaten to hamstring their research.

From the limits of travel, to time constraints, to getting users to open up about their experiences, these issues can present roadblocks to good insights.

We love the idea that we can be talking to 10 people who are spread out across the country, who may be living very different lives and have very different schedules.

Sara Ulius-Sabel

That’s why Bose drew on dscout to help get over those hurdles.

“We are using dscout to really explore, build, and test different ways to get insights from people,” explains Sara. “We love the idea that we can be talking to 10 people who are spread out across the country, who may be living very different lives and have very different schedules. And we can still engage with them on a schedule that works for us and doesn’t require us to travel to 10 different cities to try to spend time with people.”

“It also allows us to spend more time with people than perhaps we could if we were doing purely a traditional research, even if it's in-home, in-context ethnography. Being able to spend multiple days with someone and have moments that span across time is really useful.”

The Solution

When it comes time to do field work, Sara and her team discovered that dscout actually helps deepen insights by continuing the research when they weren’t visiting users.

“We see dscout being complementary to traditional research methods,” says Sara. “For example, a team that I was on earlier this year did some ethnographic work. We went in-context to understand people, how they lived, and the role that various products had played in their life.”

“In between our visits, we had them do dscout self-journaling as a way for them to actually think about the problems we talked about and reflect on them. They had time and space to think more deeply than they could if we were just asking them in the moment.”

“When we came back during repeat visits, we were able to use those entries as prompts for digging deeper into the conversation.”

“As a complementary method, dscout actually let us get a whole lot more out of our ethnographic work because now we had this extra way of gathering insights or gathering their own self-reflections that maybe we wouldn't have gotten to using some more traditional methods.”

In between our visits, we had them do dscout self-journaling as a way for them to actually think about the problems we talked about and reflect on them.

Sara Ulius-Sabel

Case 1: Learn fast, fail fast

Sara: My peers and I are challenged to go fast, learn fast, and fail fast. But traditional market research is slow. For example, you’d typically have to find a facility, book it, and get it on the calendar. And maybe, if you're lucky, it's less than three or four weeks out. Then it takes two weeks to recruit, plus all of the setup. By the time you actually get into the room and you're talking with someone, it's two or three or four weeks later.

We had to think about the ways that we can get answers in days and not weeks, and in some cases, hours and not days, depending on what the question is.

Luckily, we had dscout. One great example comes from a project I was working on shortly after I joined. It was a new space for me, and we weren't exactly sure which way our research exploration should go.

So, we used dscout’s screener. In one of the screener questions, we included a term and said, "When we say this, what does that mean to you?" Over the course of a weekend, we suddenly had hundreds of responses: some typed, some in the form of videos of people answering the question.

And then we thought, "Well, now when we design the study, let's make sure we're probing on all of those major themes from the screener." There were certainly some things that we hadn't considered. We realized that the focus or the priority for people around this topic was different than what we thought it was.

Case 2: Let’s do it live

Sara: We used dscout Live—not just for remote interviews, but actually for in-person interviews as well. We've done this a few times, particularly when we're running a design sprint. We would actually set up a dscout Live to capture the discussion from the conference room where we were doing the sprint research with real people in the room. We set up a laptop and webcam to record the participant’s responses and used another silenced laptop for the moderator. We'd set up another conference room across the building as our virtual backroom, where the team could observe.

That allowed us to record our sprint research sessions using the dscout Live recording functionality. It would give us a transcript as soon as the sessions were over. This setup allowed both myself as a researcher to discreetly tag things as we were going and it also allowed the people in the backroom to make notes. We could tag clips of things in real time, thinking, ‘Hey, this is a great quote. Let's grab that one.’

So, coming out of a day of five or six sessions at the end of a design sprint, we would already have our video clips more or less done. Our transcripts were done. We'd already have a robust note-taking session because the people watching were taking notes in dscout. It allowed us to move really fast to say, "Okay. What did we see? What are we going to do with it? What are the pieces that we want to extract, and how do we take that into our followup or following sprint?”

The Impact

Bose was able to use dscout to complement their research tools in order to attain better, more comprehensive insights from their users.

“Being able to do remote qual, mobile ethnographies, journaling, and even robust screeners allows you to learn really fast and make sure that the time you spend with people in-person is as rich and meaningful as it can be,” Sara says.

Not only that, but they were also able to engage their users on a deeper level than if they were to just stick to their traditional method sets. This allowed the users to walk away with a better experience.

“When co-creation is coupled with a diary or journaling, it leads to introspection that sometimes you don't get through other methods,” she explains. “For example, if I were to do a co-creation in a focus group session, and I bring people in and we talk about a topic for an hour and then jump into a creative exercise, they're really just designing based on what we've been discussing during that brief period of time.”

“But if I can do something that's ongoing like journaling, it causes people to think about their own actions and contexts more closely and provide responses that are more substantive. I had a project where participants came up to us after saying, ‘You know, I usually don't think about this aspect of my life. I don't feel like I usually have the time to reflect, and so I really appreciate it. Thank you for helping me reflect on this.’”

“That's really rewarding as a researcher, to realize that you're actually helping to cast a light on something or helping people to think deeper or perhaps think more sensitively about things that maybe they take for granted otherwise."

Before dscout

  • The team needed to move fast while dealing with slow research processes
  • Research insights were limited by timing and location of users
  • After dscout

  • Timelines for research shortened
  • The team could reach users across the country and on their own time
  • Users had a better, more rewarding experience by participating in self-reflective activities
  • Tony Ho Tran is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. His articles have appeared in Huff Post, Business Insider, Growthlab, and wherever else fine writing is published.

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