Words by Kari Dean McCarthy, Visuals by Delaney Gibbons
January 4, 2017
Kelly Goto is obsessed with patterns and people. It drives her evangelism for great design and impactful research, which led her to launch gotomedia and gotoresearch: two highly successful companies dedicated to design research and service design.
Kelly sat down with dscout to discuss her longtime love of diary studies, and how integral she makes research to the design process. Following is an edited version of our interview.
We heard that you have an obsession for diary studies. That’s pretty nerdy! What do you find so fascinating about that methodology? #
I love finding patterns in things. I’ve been fascinated with patterns since elementary school, always creating studies and trying to figure out why people were behaving in certain ways. Understanding why people do the things they do, and being able to put it into some measurable, pattern-like format that we can look at and say, “Oh, that makes sense.” That’s what I love. It translates into the rest of my career.
In college, I went into digital design, and when I started gotomedia, my focus was always about integrating research with the design process. All the way back in 2002, we were the U.S. arm for Nokia, doing all of their ethnography and digital research. That’s when I started conducting formal diary studies, on paper of course.
At the time, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book on flow—how people are motivated based on increasing difficulties, but in a way that feels challenging so they just rise to the occasion, they continue to focus.” It’s flow, not addiction. Then he created the experience sampling method, ESM, which is diary-study oriented. I became fascinated with ESM as a method, mixing qualitative/quantitative data to truly measure the emotional experience. It didn’t seem possible.
That was 15 years ago. During that time I interviewed amazing people like Genevieve Bell, and ethnographers at Microsoft and others who were working as ethnographers in the tech industry. Microsoft was using ESM to track and measure usage and emotion—I think it was truck drivers at the time—and Genevieve Bell spoke about how important it was to have people be inherently involved in the process, and how important context was, especially in the foreign studies she was conducting.
Nokia and Intel—is that where you connected your fascination of diary studies with mobile technology? #
That’s where the experience sampling comes in, because that was a quant look at qualitative data, and I became immersed in ethnography, focusing on the mobile space. We needed context and ethnography to understand it, so I became an evangelist for ethnography as a discipline at a very early time in the industry when they weren’t really thinking about it as hands-on, and this type of research was considered very academic.
When mobile came about and people were using interfaces in different contexts, it became important for me to see what was happening not just on the desktop, but elsewhere. This migration meant that I needed to understand the way people lived — and ESM was a diary study version of that that allowed you to collect information about people and quantify in order to begin to build patterns. At least that was the goal!
If we take the work that people have been doing with surveys and segmentation and focus groups, and we replace it with diary studies and contextual research, we’re finding that the information we’re getting back to the client is much more relevant and actionable.
What is the most exciting thing you’re working on now? #
I’m focused on a vision where the work we’re doing is going to make real change. And have huge impact. That’s what drives me. Sometimes all the gadgets and startups can seem meaningless. But, I started working with the disabled and aging communities and realized that we can actually change lives.
I believe technology has a place, not to add one more gadget to the environment, but maybe technology can help someone stay in their home for ten years longer. Maybe technology will create a less lonely person. Maybe it can help a blind person see.
Kari Dean McCarthy
Kari Dean McCarthy is a seasoned brand communications strategist, award-winning filmmaker, and gnocchi expert.
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