What is Human Experience Research?

Samantha Nicholson

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    As researchers, its our job to explore a range of different approaches and methodology for any given project. We do this to choose an approach that will get us the best, most relevant data available. Experimenting with different techniques is essential to determine which approach best suits a brief.

    I’ll be honest, human experience research is something I’ve only recently been introduced to. After looking into this emerging field of research I hope I can provide you with a brief introduction to what it is and how it differs from the more widely used approaches.

    So, let’s start right at the beginning by covering some of the more the standard methods, this way we can see how they differ.

    CX, UX & HX – What’s the Difference?

    The customer experience ties itself to a specific brand, product or service. It looks at any points of contact or interactions that a consumer has with the brand. This could be from their first encounter and initial thoughts of a brand, to a deep dive into the full customer journey. It’s in the name, but CX looks at the overall experience/ perceptions of the customer (bearing in mind that the customer may not always be the user of the end product).

    User experience is a specific component within CX, focusing on how people interact with a brand or product. This is focused on the end user, with attention, for example, on the quality and ease of the actions they take and how well they engage with aesthetics and navigation.

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    Human experience veers away from the labels we could apply with customer and user experience research, and refocuses on the individuality of the public.

    Ok now let’s put the spotlight on HX – Human experience research. HX veers away from the labels of that we could apply to the other two groups; ‘customer’, ‘consumer’, ‘user’, etc. and instead would prefer to talk about ‘people’. Sue Bell of Susan Bell Research expands on this by talking about her own practical research perspective, saying:

    “In my work, I talk about 'people'. I try to avoid using words like 'consumer' because seeing someone simply in terms of the things they consume fails to understand the holistic, lived experience of that person.”

    The approach has a real focus on the individual, immersing yourself in their life, experiences and influences; with the mindset that looking at the bigger picture of someone’s life experiences helps us understand why people act or think in a certain way.

    In this case the contrast is to 'user experience' or 'customer experience'. It seems to me at the term 'human experience' refers to experiences by people generally, and is not restricted to users or customers. – Sue Bell

    HX researchers will focus on individual’s experiences that create a narrative. The narrative of how we make sense of our own reality, how we remember our own unique experiences and how this shapes us and influences the decisions we make in the future.

    It feels to me like the other two approaches focus on what we do and how we feel about it but not so much the broader context of why we intrinsically do it and why we naturally have those feelings.

    What Does HX Mean for Research?

    Sounds great, doesn’t it? But how can we actually start applying this to market research?

    A ‘people-centric’ approach starts with understanding peoples lives and then finding gaps or needs; this kind of flips the usual research approach on its head. We would usually kick off our research by considering a set list of objectives; predefined areas of focus. However, here the first step is using respondents to identify a focus. Then we might start to look at an area we didn’t even realise was important to begin with.

    I listened to an interesting TED talk recently by Tricia Wang, she accessed human insights by fully immersing herself in the daily lives of low-income Chinese citizens. She lived with them, worked with them, really got to know them. Through these methods she started picking up on areas of need, wants and desires that weren’t yet documented in the larger quantitative research taking place at the time. Her story shows how this approach to research can help unpick innovative areas of development, and spot new trends before it's too late.

    Now, it might well be that sometimes we don’t have the budget or time to be able to get to know people just as closely as the above technique has described. However, I’ve also come across a few more subtle techniques that I thought would be interesting to share, and may relate more to the more standard and established methods used in research.

    The first approach is something that would easily integrate itself into much of the research we run on a daily basis. It’s called name piping. This basically involves using a respondent’s name within a research activity, for example a survey, to help personalise the experience. Examples could be “Thank you Sammy for you time today and answering our survey questions”, “Welcome to the survey, Sammy! We’re really keen to hear about your individual experiences”.

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    Human experience could be a valuable asset to market research, how would insight professionals incorporate the values of HX into data collection and insight generation processes?

    Another approach is to reference what you know. Often a respondent might take part in several tasks, and its not uncommon for them to feel like they’ve already fed-back on a topic area we may be questioning them about. In this approach, you would take the time to reference a previous answer. In qualitative research that might take a little time to read up on the participants comments so far, but in quantitative research we can stem through a previous answer and use it for reference or question structure in a survey.

    Finally, it could be something as simple as a change of focus, for example; asking how respondents relate to an advertising campaign instead of just how they react to the campaign. Asking questions in a way that aim to get at a respondent's identity and emotions.

    Integrating HX

    By using HX research and really getting to know people, this gives the chance for deeper insights and a whole new world of understanding. This kind of research can uncover new links and lead to questions you didn’t even know were important to ask.

    From looking into this area of research, I initially thought that HX was a world away from how we currently operate, but I’ve learned that we can actually make some subtle changes to our research design that moves the tone of an activity, to be more focused and unique to the individual.

    Not to say after this first exposure to the field that I’m now going to be able to fully operate HX style… but maybe considering some of these subtle changes will open up our research. I’ve come to the conclusion that helping people to share more about their stories can only be a good thing and maybe reframing our thought process as researchers to consider the individual and their narrative is the next step to innovative insight.

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