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Helping to facilitate a series of public facing workshops at FACT in Liverpool last week I was struck by the challenges of carrying out design research in semi-public places. Yvonne Rogers has identified what she calls a ‘turn to the wild’ in research approaches, particularly those dealing with interaction design or interface design. In her words; ‘a shift towards conducting in-the-wild studies has largely come about from a growing interest in how pervasive technologies can be designed to enhance and become part of the everydayness of life’. In Liverpool I learned a few things about doing in the wild creative activities.

Time is important. What’s the best time of day to talk to people? How much time are people prepared to commit to engaging with you? We found 25-30 minutes was about the limit for a busy Friday and Saturday midday session. Populations can vary enormously. People come alone, with friends or partners, or in larger family groups. Can you deal with a family of five aged from 5 to 85? Is the activity designed to appeal to a narrow population or is it open enough to take account of the public setting? We discovered that providing a complex but rewarding creative task with simple materials led to wider uptake. Cultural expectations are also incredibly diverse. Participants who do not speak or understand English very well, who think you are from the council, local university, or host institution can present a challenge to how much you can achieve if you have to explain yourself to everyone. People with different levels of technical knowledge and ability, even people of completely different generations will bring very different attitudes to the research. How will you account for the diversity? Documenting what’s happening can be a major challenge. Is it OK ethically to take pictures of everyone? Is there time to get every participant to sign a release form? Should you do videos, voice recordings, photos, or take notes? We learned that it was much better to task a team member to do documentation than to distribute the task amongst researchers. They could also handle consent on a case by case basis.

Finally, keeping research questions in focus will allow you to adapt and update the research design in a rapidly unfolding situation. Time passes very quickly and you may have to skip a step. Make sure the research design is robust enough to allow for this and that you will still end up with usable, applicable and generalisable results.

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