Posts tagged “interruption”

Diane’s War Story: Interrupted Interview

Diane Loviglio, User Experience Researcher at Mozilla, has a story that reminds us our participants are part of larger systems that we don’t have insight into when we’re recruiting them.

We walk down a nondescript hallway, me and my team’s designer and engineer. It’s the first time the three of us have been in the field together. I’m confident and excited, but also a little nervous that our engineer will start asking off-topic questions like “How many lines of code did that take?” during the interview. We find the door of the gaming studio and we walk inside – straight into the kitchen. The walls are brightly painted, the plan is open, the kitchen is right in front of us, but there’s no reception area in sight. So now the three of us are just standing in the hustle and bustle of the studio and aren’t sure where to go next. We felt a little awkward. Eventually, I started to text our host, but she appeared before I finished typing the message.

Melissa (that’s what I’ll call her) warmly greets us. She had high energy, but you could also tell things were a little chaotic that day. She walks us 500 feet to one of their two conference rooms and then she goes to get her engineering counterpart, who we would also be talking to for the next 90 minutes.

We set up the Flip video camera and unpacked our notebooks and paper and markers for the drawing exercise at the end. Mike (that’s what I’ll call him) comes in with Melissa. He’s much more reserved than she is, which was expected, but we get started and things are going great. They are playing off each other well – they both had different perspectives on the subject we were studying and that was coming out very well in the interview.

55 minutes into the session, we are completely interrupted by an angry guy slamming the door open and barging into our conference room. He knew we were doing a private interview in there, because the walls were glass, but he barged in just the same. He starts yelling at Melissa and Mike – as if we wouldn’t pay attention unless he used his outdoor voice – “we’re meeting with [important company name] next door – let’s go!” Who the hell was this guy? And how obnoxious for him to walk in on our meeting without knocking or excusing himself. He didn’t even make eye contact with us.

Melissa was taken aback. This other meeting wasn’t even on her schedule, so she was a little confused, but she tried to handle it and excused herself to go talk to this lunatic. I stopped the Flip, and without prying into the details, tried to get a read on how important this meeting was and if we should start packing up to go. Mike just sat there silently, as if this behavior was completely normal and things would pass over soon. He didn’t have any kind of reaction to the incident at all. We told him we could finish this at another time if Melissa wasn’t free – maybe over the phone or email. He just shrugged. Melissa walked back into our formerly private room, was very apologetic and said that we could continue, but she was obviously distracted. She was under the impression that we would just be another 5 minutes and I told her that this was actually a 90 minute interview so we still had 30 minutes to go, but we could hurry and wrap it up in 15. She paused for a moment, and we thought “Okay, that’s our cue. We’ll leave and let you be.” But, Melissa said that Mike wasn’t needed in the meeting after all, and he offered to stay and talk with us. So we plopped back down and said, “Oh. That would be great.” Melissa apologized again for not realizing how long our meeting was supposed to be and promised to reply to questions over email instead. I gave her a hug as she left the room. She looked like she needed one. And, I gave her that sincere “Gosh, I hope you don’t get fired today” thank you. She left and went into the conference room adjacent to us and we heard the call begin, because the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling.

With Melissa gone, we asked Mike the next question and realized we’d be spending probably no more than 10 more minutes with him. Not more than 1 minute later, as soon as we started to get comfortable again, the crazy guy comes back in and starts yelling at Mike! “We rescheduled this for you – we need you on this call. Now. If you don’t come, we can’t close this deal.” Okay, now we realized this was a bad situation. Mike casually said, “OK”, got up to leave, and asked us to email him the questions.

They just left us in the conference room, all alone. We packed up our stuff and awkwardly made our way to the front door, none of us saying a word. We walked down the nondescript hallways in silence, making faces at each other to share our mutual feeling of “what the hell was that?” but we kept our cool and made it out of the building. On the way back to the car, the only thing I could do was apologize profusely to my designer and engineer. “I’m so sorry guys, that has never happened to me before. I feel so icky. Oof, so sorry guys. Usually, my interviews are a lot more professional than that and people don’t come in yelling at the people you are interviewing.”

So, we spent the car ride back pretending to barge into each others’ interviews, laughing it off and trying to re-group for the rest of the day.

Nicolas’ War Story: Do you want me to act?

Nicolas Nova, consultant and researcher at Near Future Laboratory encounters an unusual individual, entirely unrelated to his study.

I remember a study I’ve conducted last year that was set in a big shopping mall in France. We were there interviewing users of smartphones for an R&D project. The place was pretty standard and we decided to sit in a fast food joint called “Quick”, at the entrance of the mall (which means a lot of people were passing by). Given the focus of the project, we had to videotape the interviews and take pictures of the posture of the user. This means that the presence of cameras was hard to hide and that passers-by couldn’t avoid noticing them.

After four interviews, we started the fifth one, kind of tired after hours of discussions with informants. Right in the middle of this interview, my colleague and I saw a tall guy moving to us with urgent haste, putting his two hands on the table, and screaming the following line: “I’ve just been released from prison and I’m hungry! What are you guys up to? Are you in the video business? Do you want me to act? Or what?”

The size of the guy, his level of excitement, the face of our informant and the people around us made the event very odd as it stopped everything for a second or two. It’s this sort of situation in which you have to behave yourself and avoid pissing off the nervous intruder, take care of the informant naively stopped in her description and an audience frowning at us. He seemed so energetic, perhaps by his re-entering of public society, that he looked at the same time excited about a new opportunity AND being a thug about to rob us from our devices. The “or what?” was said with so much hatred in his voice that were a bit nervous ourselves.

We explained to the guy that we were interviewing someone, asking her about her perspective for a research project and that he could be a participant later on. We were of course hoping it would be the end of it, a sort of way to make him understand that this is not the moment to chat with us.

Of course, he didn’t seem convinced, or he simply didn’t get it because he told us: “Oh yes I’ve a friend in Marseille in the video industry, I know your stuff!” To which he added: “But why do you have so many telephones?” My colleague explained the project and that was the end of it. “Arf, I don’t get it, I don’t care, plus I’m hungry”… and he left as fast he arrived few minutes ago.

Nothing really bad here but it was just awkward for us, a sort of break into our interview day…which actually readjusted our energy because we then completed three more afterwards!

Tamara’s War Story: What the Hell? Don’t you knock?

My first trip to New Jersey for fieldwork involved two memorable events: a blizzard and a bathroom blitz.

Two days before we departed for New Jersey I received an email request from my client to rent the biggest SUV available. A huge snowstorm was pounding the Northeast and he wanted to feel safe as we ventured into the streets and highways of various townships for a week of in-home interviews. I obliged and was glad I did. The evening we arrived we found the streets covered with snow and the plows were evidently having trouble keeping up.

I kept getting rescheduling calls from the recruiter. Participants were cancelling because of the weather. This seemed strange given the fact that WE were the ones travelling to their homes and they didn’t have to go anywhere! It felt like a game of musical chairs as we continually shifted and rescheduled. It was impossible to predict if we would be able to complete the targeted number of interviews during our weeklong visit. In fact, it was even difficult to predict if we would be able to leave town at the end of the week because the airport was cancelling flights every day.

There were three of us in the field: myself, a videographer, and the client. We all met for breakfast the first morning while the car warmed up. It took 30 minutes to melt the layers of ice that had accumulated overnight on the windshield. Fortunately the heater had kicked in by the time we all piled into the SUV and headed out for our first interview of the week, giving ourselves ample time to arrive at our destination.

Instead of the 30 minutes suggested by Google Maps, we arrived an hour later at our destination, a narrow residential street of two-story beige brick duplexes still decorated for the Christmas holiday. Plows had left six foot tall snowbanks on either side of the street and cars were parked in tight spaces carved out by the residents. Sadly it appeared that most of those residents didn’t have an SUV as big as our rental. We circled the area for fifteen minutes before we found a gap large enough to park in.

We were there to interview a young woman in her 20s, a nurse. She welcomed us into the living room where we set up our cameras and found places to sit among the teddy bear collection and floor-to-ceiling cabinet containing an homage to Michael Jackson. Her mother appeared in a short fuzzy black robe. “I’ve been doing focus groups for years. No one ever asked to come to this house before. Why do you want to go to people’s houses?” We explained the nature of our visit and commenced with the interview.

For the first half hour of the interview the mother came in and out of the room, answering and asking questions and reiterating her concerns about our presence and intentions. Each time, the daughter would suspend her responses to address the interruption, urging her mother out of the room. “We always meet at Dunkin’ Donuts. That’s the place to go…MA! They’re here to talk to me. Let me do this!”, “I always stop on my way to work to pick up an iced tea…MA! Go get dressed already!”, “I love those little facts on the lid. They are so cute…MA! Enough! Quit interrupting us!” No matter what the daughter said, the mother would return every few minutes to listen and contribute.

I realized shortly into the interview that, in our flurry of inclement travel, I had neglected to honor one of the cardinal rules of interviewing: “Go before you arrive.” I ignored my biological needs as long as I could but the morning’s coffee didn’t help. I finally had to excuse myself for a restroom break.

“It’s just there in the hall, on the right” said the nurse, pointing down the mirrored hallway.

I excused myself and walked up to bathroom door. It was open a few inches so I pushed it. There in the bright pink and black tiled bathroom stood the mother, facing the toilet with her little black robe hiked up above the waist, her backside completely exposed. She turned before I could retreat. “What the Hell? Don’t you knock?” I felt blood rush warmly to my face.

“I’m so sorry” I said, backing out and closing the door behind (or rather, in front of) me. “I’m so sorry” I continued, “the door was open. I didn’t realize anyone was in there. I’m so sorry.”

I swiftly returned to the living room.

“I’m so sorry,” I told the nurse. “The door was open a crack so I just went in and I walked in on your mother. I am sure I’ve upset her.”

“Ha! Don’t worry. She’ll be fine” she consoled me. “Maybe she’ll leave us alone now.”

I wasn’t sure I would be fine. I tried to concentrate on the interview, the purpose of our visit, the friendly nurse who gave us a detailed tour of the kitchen drawers. But images of her mother’s bare behind kept flashing in my mind. She was right, sort of, about her mother leaving us alone. For the remaining hour we didn’t hear a word from the woman, though she kept appearing (now fully clothed) wherever we were. She said nothing. She just looked at me with a glare that felt as icy as the windshield that awaited us outside.

Our first stop was a Dunkin’ Donuts where I was finally able to relieve myself.


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