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  • 00:25

    SOPHIE PECK: My name is Sophie Peck,and I'm a research associate at Conifer Research.Living Labs are a research method or approachthat really drives user-centered innovation.And it allows us to embed a product or service, whateverit is we're wanting to understand, reallyinto the real life context of a user's life.

  • 00:47

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: So I'd say if a lab as a concept allowsus to make data observable, a space in which we can make dataobservable, then Living Labs reallyallow us to reframe what is considered dataand approach the full context of a user's life and the userexperience.

  • 01:06

    SASHA MCCUNE: I'm Sasha McCune.I'm a director here at Conifer Research.A lot of people think about concept testingas focus group facilities, sterile rooms,sometimes even surveys.And our approach to concept testing is a little different.Yes, we do those things when it'sthe right method for the job.

  • 01:26

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: But actually, really our approach to concept testingis rooted in being as in context as possible.And that means trying to be in environmentsthat are as close to real life to whatever you're studying.So we've coined these as Living Labs, where we actuallytry to emulate real homes, real spaces,

  • 01:47

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: real retail environments.And sometimes these are actually very real spaces.We will take prototypes and concepts into people's homesand test them in their home, and in a retail environmentat the actual shelf while stores were openand real customers are going by, right?Sometimes we will even emulate spacesby creating like lab environments

  • 02:11

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: that look like or feel like the spacewhere they would ultimately be tested.We've also even rented Airbnbs to create alternative homelikeenvironments where participants can come in and feellike they're in a space where things might be set upsimilar to what they have at home.And the reason we do this is because when you just

  • 02:32

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: have something in a focus group or in a lab setting,you miss all of the things that impact an experience.You miss the customers going by, the senseof stress, the lighting, where somethingis placed in proximity to another,the human factors of a sales associatethat's helpful or unhelpful, right, other people in line,

  • 02:53

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: other people trying to see things,other people in your home trying to use things.Those are all the factors that can really make or breaka prototype.One of the best stories that we everhave in this space in the Living Labsis we had a client that put a giant oatmeal machinein an actual gas station, a convenience store location.

  • 03:17

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: So they wanted to test whether or not people saw it.Beautiful machine, really big, really bright,really well designed.Lots of money went into it.And what happened is people wouldgo into the store looking for oatmeal and walk right past it.Because you forget all the things that

  • 03:38

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: go into the contexts and environmentsthat people are in, their habits,their routines, their mental models,what they expect to see.And when you don't do things in context,you miss some of those major insights.That mean that sometimes people mightbe circumventing your prototype or productand not even seeing it.And what does that mean for the whole strategy

  • 04:00

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: of rolling and scaling this into a bigger environment?

  • 04:08

    ANNE SCHORR: My name's Anne Schorr.I'm one of the partners and co-founders of Conifer.So that means I've been here since the very beginning, whichwas 19 years ago, which seems unbelievable to me.But it's been quite the ride.The Living Labs-- And I know you spoke earlierabout deprivation.I think those are examples of creativity and bringing kind

  • 04:28

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: of not a cookie cutter approach to howwe're going to go about and answer questions or getinformation.I think the other piece of this is that as you mentioned,some of this collaboration.Part of it is it starts at the beginning.You can't wait until the end of the project

  • 04:51

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: to start thinking about things.That needs to be part of how you help your client builda team that would be part of a core team or an extended team.This is part of how you launch the projectby really engaging them on, OK, whatare your current assumptions?What is the past history?And really helping get that alignmentabout framing up what we want to learn about in the beginning.

  • 05:16

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: It's about coming in the field with us,because those immersive experiencesare things that people take with them in a much different waythan even if they're watching a video collection later,there's something very tactile.And the experience of being therecan really help them become champions

  • 05:39

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: of some of the insights that emerge at the end.It's about clearly, at the end of a project, again, it's not--I don't see our mission as, here are some great insights,have fun.I see our mission of, here are some opportunity spaces.Let's begin to populate those with concepts.

  • 06:02

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: We'll spring together a cross-functional team,and let's you know, go wide, let's converge at first.There's no wrong answer.And then, let's see that as data,cluster it to help hone in, OK, where are--where is our passion, where is our opportunity within that.So to me, it's to get result it has

  • 06:23

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: to be-- you have to be thinking about all of that.And you have to be thinking about thatin the beginning of the project.

  • 06:29

    SASHA MCCUNE: A lot of teams rely heavily on surveys.And we do, do some here and quant datareally has its strength.But what happens when you have a lot of survey content,it comes to you in zeros and ones.Crosstabs, right?You're swimming in crosstabs, you'reswimming in reports that are full of bullets,

  • 06:49

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: full of graphs, you don't know quitewhere that data came from.Sometimes you can't even get your hands on the original dataas it came in.And when you see that, what happensis it almost becomes like bystander syndrome.Where it becomes really difficult to take ownershipof the data in front of you because it wasn't yours,

  • 07:12

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: not your problem, you didn't create it, right?So you just watch it go by.So teams can see data points that point to a problem or thatcan tell you what you need to do,but if you don't have that sense of ownership of that content,it becomes really hard for teams to actually act onit and implement it into their day to day plans and strategy.

  • 07:33

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: This is one of the reasons why we advocateso heavily for in-context learning, in-context immersion,when we do fieldwork, when we do research,when we do Living Labs, we're bringing clientsinto the experience.They're coming into the field with us,they're in the front room, they're in the back room,they're right beside us when we lead interviews.Because that immersion and absorbing knowledge in that way

  • 07:56

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: firsthand is what helps them act on those thingsand be able to affect the change theyneed to within the business.

  • 08:03

    SOPHIE PECK: So in a traditional lab context,it's obviously, quite sterile, it'squite unnatural it's a very controlled environment.And so a Living Lab really facilitates more real lifecontextual understanding.It enables us to discover things about a product or serviceor the design of something that we otherwise

  • 08:25

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: wouldn't be able to identify.So for instance, in a prototype testing context,we might not understand how say, the acoustics of a roomchanges how a product is used or understood by the user.So being able to actually have itin a context such as a home or a store

  • 08:48

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: or wherever, the actual user experience is goingto take place really helps us identify those thingsthat we otherwise would not be able to learn.And I think it also is really beneficial comparedto traditional lab contexts because users obviously, arehyper-aware in a lab context that they're being observed.And we're able to facilitate more

  • 09:10

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: of a casual, relaxed interview kind of style of prototypetesting or user experience testing when it's in a homeor in the actual context of the product it's going to be.A lot of clients for--a lot of projects that we do have done all different typesof testing before.I think the a traditional lab context

  • 09:32

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: testing is really common for UX projects,in particular, and for software and some hardwareprojects, so for tech companies that's usually what they do.And I think when a client actuallyis able to see that the difference in the informalityand the difference in the conversations

  • 09:54

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: that we're able to have with the usersunder those new environments, I think we're certainlyprogressing to a stage where the labitself can be a concept, right?As a design researcher, it's whatwe bring to anytime we meet a user or anytime we areunderstanding a project, we're kindof bringing the lab with us.So I think clients are increasingly

  • 10:15

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: seeing the value in that and appreciating the factthat they're understanding different levels of the userexperience that they previously weren't able to.When we're doing something in a Living Lab context,we usually always have film and audio recording, as well.Many of the projects that we've donein the past that's just for note taking purposes almost.

  • 10:37

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: It enables us to revisit the data wheneverwe want to but increasingly also, and particularly here atConifer, we like to rich video collectionstoo for the clients.So that other teams within the organizationthat perhaps weren't involved in that projectare able to look back and actually seevideo of the interview.We do all kinds of ethnographic research quite often

  • 10:59

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: in-home testing, is something we reallylike to do in-home interviews.Because that's the situation in whichyou're going to get a participant most comfortable.And yes, we apply all of the same analysisand synthesis to the data that we gather from a Living Labcontext as we would in an in-home.Quite often do extended interviews with participants.

  • 11:22

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: My personal favorite is to do a couple or a family interviewbecause you get much more of a natural conversation,particularly in couples.You'll have them say to each other,no you don't do it like that.You bring a more natural context to it.You got to understand the context of their lives.And it's the same anytime childrenare involved in the household, that's obviously

  • 11:44

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: going to change the dynamic.So we quite often will do sit down interviews, perhapswalk-throughs, if it is in the participant's home they'llshow us the context in which theywould be using the product.In a lab context for instance say, we've rented an Airbnbor had another space kind of, a more home like space,

  • 12:08

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: we'll do data tracking.So we had about 10 participants for instance,we can do qualitative interviews with all of those people,do walk-throughs of the space, do prototype testing,and then, also track the usability of whateverit was they were engaging with.

  • 12:29

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: And then, kind of, bring those 10 different participants'results together at the end and analyze itas part of the qualitative analysis.We recently did a project with Sonos and for that,we did three very fast, agile research sprints

  • 12:52

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: for prototypes.And the project was really tryingto understand different control surfaces.So they had prototypes but they--for the first couple of rounds didn't look like, real speakersor real control devices in any way.So for that, we brought a Living Lab contextto bear on it because we wanted participants

  • 13:13

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: to be able to engage with the idea of controllinga sound or an audio device without actually being swayedor compelled by the appearance of it.So in that situation, we did the first twoin a lab context, where we rented an Airbnb like,a nice house.First one was in L.A. and had different iterations

  • 13:38

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: of a prototype in different areas of the house.And that really enabled the participantsto not engage with the look or even,the feel of these prototypes, but actually,understand the impact that it had on the waythey control their music.And because it wasn't in their own home,they weren't thinking, oh how does this look or why would

  • 13:58

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: this fit in my house.It was more oh, I'm in a kitchen.If my hands were dirty and I was in the middle of cooking,how would this affect how I engaged with this prototype?So that gave us enough of a balanceto be able to have some level of control.More so than you do when you bring a prototype into a user'shome and leave it there for instance.But it also was natural enough that it didn't feel sterile,

  • 14:22

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: it didn't feel as though they were being watched.And even though there was a back roomof a group of clients and people from Coniferwatching their every move, they didn't know that.So it really is just one or two interviewersand perhaps someone filming.And it enables a participant to be much more relaxedand we get some great data that way.The process always really starts for us with the client.

  • 14:42

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: So we'll take the request for proposals that we've got,we'll write a proposal, we'll think about the methodsthat perhaps clients were interested in,we'll use our expertise to understandwhat the best approach is going to be, and I think for--increasingly for tech and innovation companies looking--

  • 15:04

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: or tech and innovation departmentswithin bigger companies, looking to really understandhow their products are actually going to be usedand going to be impacted by the user's life.They're looking more to take the controlled aspect awayfrom the research and think about all the waysthat things that we can't control in the users

  • 15:26

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: environment is going to impact the UX and the user experiencemore generally.As with any design research project,I'd say there is quite a lot of ambiguity.And when we're working through that the best method, weobviously, have to do a lot of planning when we're recruitingparticipants there really has to be certain structures set

  • 15:47

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: in place that ensure the research that we plannedis going to take place.But quite often, I mean, the beautyand the value of it being in a living context, quote unquote,is that we don't quite know how it's actually going to go.So for instance, we'll have a discussion guide laid outfor the interview.But that really is just prompts for us

  • 16:09

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: to be able to engage the participant in a conversation.And there's always things that wehave to make sure we cover in that because it's reallyimportant to the client, it's reallyimportant to their understanding of how that product is goingto get used.But obviously, as with any natural conversation, it canit can veer off and change.

  • 16:29

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: And it's not uncommon for projectsto shift gears midway through.But usually there's so much planning involvedin getting a Living Lab project out of the door,that we have to try and at least stick to that methodthroughout.The location is usually chosen by a conversation

  • 16:50

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: with the client.We'll recommend some markets that we think are important,usually, for the projects that wedo with the length of the projectsoften anywhere from sort of four to 12 weeks,we'll recommend two markets within that.We like to try and include a diversity of marketswithin that, like an east and west coastor Midwest and southern.

  • 17:12

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: And quite often the clients will have certain areasthat either they have a bigger market share inand they'll want us to do testing that.Or they leave it completely open to us.So in general though for tech projects,we try to avoid areas like San Francisco or areas that--

  • 17:32

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: the people who live there are likely to havea certain bias against certain companiesor bias toward certain companies,or just have that less common knowledgethan the average person is going to have.The purpose of it is really to try and understandhow a diversity of customers with all different experiences

  • 17:52

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: and levels of technical understandingare going to respond to what's being developed.Quite often, we'll have studies be blind.I'd say that's more common than actually not--than knowing who it's for.We do that just to prevent bias, wedo that to really try and understand

  • 18:14

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: the broader, conceptual understanding that the user hasabout the product or the service.So that they're not biased by their feelingsabout a particular brand or product.

  • 18:32

    SASHA MCCUNE: Oh my gosh, deprivation studies.Deprivation studies are one of the funnest things we do.You wouldn't think so because deprivingpeople sounds intense, it also sounds cruel but it's not,we promise.So what deprivation studies are is essentially,they are behavioral prototype tests

  • 18:52

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: or behavioral interventions, right?A company might come to us and theymight want to understand what streaming media isgoing to look like in 10 years.Or what life is going to be like whennorms change and certain products aren't availableor technology changes.So what we use deprivation for is

  • 19:13

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: to take away or replace things in people'snormal daily routines and study the relief of thatin daily life right now.So what we usually do is we might say,no TV for you for two weeks.And see what other ways people find to sourcetheir television, right?

  • 19:34

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: What workarounds do they uncover?What barriers do they encounter?Does their behavior change?Or are there limitations to what they'rewilling to adapt and kind of work around?So we've done this in spaces from televisionto candy and snacks and water and reallywhere we're looking to understand how flexible

  • 19:56

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: and how rigid are consumers in their current routines.And what are the opportunities to beginto change their behaviors or shifttheir attention towards newer services thatmight come out in the future.For example, we did a deprivation study10 years ago on television right at the timewhen streaming was becoming popular.

  • 20:18

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: And we were trying to understand what that migrationexperience would look like and what problems and pain pointsthe media companies were going to have when they actuallydid have to switch.It's been really interesting over the last 10 yearsto see which of the pain points from that original workstill persist today.Big problems, infrastructural problemsthat never were solved or still are

  • 20:40

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: being worked on in that space.And you would think that participants don't like this,you know, it seems jarring to take away something.But actually, we found it elicits quite a lot of joy.They're usually pretty game to go along this journey with usand experiment and try something new.And it allows them an opportunity

  • 21:01

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: to reflect on their own behavior and their own attachmentto certain things in a way that they usually wouldn't do.You know that study was fascinatingbecause it was done in the time rightafter Flint Michigan had happened.And there was a lot of interesting concernsabout safety of tap water and we were looking specifically

  • 21:23

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: at filtration, the filtration space.And how we could change people's behavior awayfrom bottled beverages.So in order to do that, we recruited participantsfrom both sides of that.That actually use bottled water constantlyand it's their go-to source for water.And others that use refillable beverages and use

  • 21:46

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: filters and don't really choose plastic in their life.And what we did is after understanding their baselineand learning a little bit from themabout why they make the choices they makeand how unconscious their decisions were,we then switched it.So people who usually were going to a refillable bottlewere given a bunch of plastic bottles of water

  • 22:07

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: that they had to figure out how to ration.And the act of having to engage with a productthat they take for granted in their life, accessto a resource like that, they learn so much about themselvesand we're able to articulate what they lookedfor in packaging to make them feel betterabout doing something like that.And what the limitations to that behavior change were.

  • 22:27

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: And it was the same thing that wedid for people who usually opt for bottled water,we gave them Brita filters and resealable water bottles.And some of them did not know what to do with them, right.They were like oh dear, this is going to be a challenge.Because they're used to just picking somethingup and grabbing and going and suddenly,

  • 22:48

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: they were faced with new effort that theyhad to put in to a ritual and a habitin their life that was really routinized and set.

  • 22:56

    SOPHIE PECK: When we're thinking conceptuallyabout bringing the lab everywhere with us,then the majority of projects that we dohave a component that involves either going into users' homesor bringing them in to a more comfortable Living Lablike contexts.So really depends on the definition that's kind of,

  • 23:17

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: macro ideas of Living Labs where peopleare designing whole smart cities by taking whole blocksand using the data from that.Or there's the kind of micro level that we do,which can be anything from three or four peoplein a rented Airbnb to going into someone's home too--yeah, bringing the lab with you.

  • 23:37

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: So for us just about every projectwe do has some conceptual understanding of this broaderversion of a lab.But for Living Labs particularly,I'd say, maybe, 20, 30% at the moment.

  • 23:57

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: All of the design researchers here at Coniferand some of the designers too, areinvolved in all of the different projectsand all of the different methods that we use.Whether that's remote or in-home or Living Lab,everybody does everything here.

  • 24:11

    ANNE SCHORR: I mean, this is actuallya real struggle we hear clients constantly saying this,that they all have graveyards of what they believethere are good ideas in that-- but the process thatis the kind of the traditional process of basestesting, it's like, no that one failed, it's out.

  • 24:32

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: And instead of saying, OK well, are the needs still valid?And how could we better execute against that?There's not a lot of good processes around that.So I think with--when we think about activation it'sabout avoiding some of those pitfalls.Because you can have, again, you see this happen,

  • 24:54

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: you have great insights you can actuallyhave great companion concepts.But if no one is listening at the organizationor there isn't enough buy in or beliefthat's been built throughout the process,then they can easily just fall to the wayside.You need to-- and this is why it's so important to build

  • 25:14

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: those advocates through the process because if you haveadvocates coming out the back end of it,people who not just believe it because you know,there's a spreadsheet that says x,y, and z.But believe it because they've seen the patternsin the data we're able to bring to life because oneof the benefits of our methodologybecause it is so context and observation driven is that, you

  • 25:39

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: can put together like these video compilationswhere you see people and you see their behaviors.And you see it as a pattern acrossand it's hard to say dispute that, you know.And it's also the real, that's the kind of datathat can actually really be great fodder for ideationand concept development.Because you got a group of designers and R&D people

  • 26:01

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: in there and they see how people aretrying to accomplish something.And maybe they're working around what the existing systems are.And they get excited about creating those solutions.And again, it's that passion.You need to have those advocates that can then take it forwardbecause there are always going to be political hurdles.There's always going to be you know,

  • 26:23

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: lots of different stage gates that theyhave to push these through.And so being able to provide them with inputs that can helptell those stories powerfully can reallyhelp with the end result.


Co-founder and Partner, Anne Schorr, as well as directors and staff at Conifer Research, discuss using a "living labs" methodology for concept testing in marketing research.

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SAGE Publications Ltd.
Publication Year:
SAGE Research Methods Video: Market Research
Publication Place:
United Kingdom
SAGE Original Production Type:
SAGE In Practice
Copyright Statement:
(c) SAGE Publications Ltd., 2020


Sophie Peck
Sasha McCune
Anne Schorr

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Segment Num: 1


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A term coined by the American sociologist, Harold Garfinkel, ethnomethodology investigates the constitutive organisation of social interaction.
Using “Living Labs” Methodology for Concept Testing: Conifer Research

Co-founder and Partner, Anne Schorr, as well as directors and staff at Conifer Research, discuss using a "living labs" methodology for concept testing in marketing research.

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