By Wendy Eichenbaum
Last month, we discussed how to construct questions for interviewing your customers. But when you talk with your customers in groups, there are additional challenges. Some customers want to contribute to every question, while others only speak when singled out by the moderator.
While a skilled moderator can control the flow of answers, it’s often helpful to include exercises that start with small group discussions, where customers don’t compete for attention. And then bring all customers together for a discussion of findings.
One way to do this is with an exercise called “Dump and Clump.”
This is a brainstorming tool that allows users to “dump” all of their ideas, and then “clump” the individual ideas together in logical groups.
To show how this technique works, we’ll use the same sample question from last month: “Think about the last time you scheduled a meeting. Think about the tasks you performed. Think about any problems you encountered. Did you wish for a new feature? If you could have it all your way, how would you want to schedule a meeting?”
Divide the customers into teams of three to four people. Give each team a pad of Post-It notes and a pen. Teams then brainstorm answers to the question, writing down one unique idea per Post-It note. They brainstorm for a pre-defined amount of time, perhaps 5-10 minutes. Do not allow them to organize. That is a separate cognitive process, which will interrupt the brainstorm process.
After brainstorming, customers will “clump” their answers into logical groups.
Collect all of their notes and go to a whiteboard. Read one answer. Let’s say it’s “Pre-fill people I invited to the last meeting.” Since it’s the first answer put it on the board. Then read the next answer. Let’s say it’s “Shortcuts.” Ask users if they think this is the same type of idea or content as the first answer. If yes, place the notes together on the whiteboard. If not, then place the 2nd answer elsewhere on the whiteboard.
Follow this process for the entire set of answers. At the end you’ll have a number of groups. Review the content in each group, and allow customers to move ideas to other groups if they feel it’s appropriate.
Finally ask users to name each of the groups. This is another peek into their mental models and terminology.
You’re likely to get 5-10 categories. If you have more than 10, look for similar categories. Then ask the customers if it makes sense to combine categories. Perhaps “Shortcuts” and “Expert Controls” are similar.
If you only have 2-3 groups, look for ways to divide a large group. Perhaps “attendee’s email” should be in a different group than “attendee’s meeting schedule.” You need a schedule to select a time, but you need the email to send the invitation.
However, don’t force any groups. You are learning how users associate features, which can influence feature sets and UI design. And you are learning how your users will refer to these features, which can influence taxonomy choices in your product, service, customer support, website navigation, and marketing materials.
Dump and Clump is a powerful way to elicit feedback from groups. Customers answer your question in their own vocabulary. And you create an environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.