Cooper Workshop: Research, research, research

Last night marked our second design workshop with Cooper, and we covered research, research, research. Our entrepreneurs have complicated problems to solve, from the gym to the emergency room, and it’s incredibly important that they conduct efficient and profound research to build the best possible product. The first step in solving these problems is to gain a deep understanding of users needs and desires. Cooper’s tool box of research methods include using observations, interviews, and participatory design. Let’s cover each one:


Spending time in hospitals and doctor’s offices provide invaluable insights into how prospective users view the world and interact with tools. “Habits, goals, and values are so deeply embedded” into users that only an outside observer can notice them. Time spent observing the people working in their environments will give insight into workflow, practices, and communications.


  • Build a relationship with the person you are observing to make them feel comfortable as you watch over their shoulder.
  • Develop a balance between asking questions and allowing them to work as if you weren’t there.
  • Look for clues into ineffective processes like post-its that are there to remind them how to use it.
  • Dig deeper and avoid assumptions by asking why?



As simple tools to discover the intent behind behaviors, interviews with even a few people produce valuable information. It can be done at any time in the product development process. Externalizing thought processes and asking the right questions are art forms, and as such take practice to reveal the true users’ true desires and thought processes.


  • Approach the interview as a learner without assumptions and curiosity.  Be sure to make the interviewee feel like the expert in their field.
  • Utilize open-ened questions to gather more content such as: How, When, What, Why?
  • Utilize close ended questions to get interviewee to warm-up, clarify, or take control of the interview, like: Do, Will, Can?
  • Summarize to verify your understanding: “Sounds like the key points are…”
  • Keep prying to get to the underlying motives and desires- by asking why?
  • Try asking when people are waiting in line or by providing an incentive like a cup of coffee to chat.


Participatory Design Research

This research method has participants use words, images or props to express the attributes of an experience with a product of service. These are helpful to engage the person to articulate current or ideal experience with a product that they may not be able to express in an interview. Note that these are good exercises but may not be the best design in the end.


  • Utilize props to get the participants active.
  • Use a follow up interview to uncover reasoning behind their actions.
  • Design along side to see their reactions to some of your designs proposals.

Once you pick a method, you have to find out how to get participants. Here are a few Cooper-approved options:

  • Try Google ads to get people to take surveys. You can track which ones bring in the most people
  • Use funny or compelling stories to grab attention on craigslist
  • Get people that are waiting around at bus stops, shopping malls, or other public waiting places
  • is a great web-based option
  • Search through social sites to find groups that already exist around specific diseases
  • Provide incentives to participants like gift cards, money, etc.


Special thank you to Cooperistas Doug and Renna for sharing your tricks to conducting efficient and precious research!