This is what happens in user research!

Snipped from an article today about chemical-based cleaners in the home

Cory McKee, 27, a stay-at-home mom of three in Tridell, Utah, started ordering Seventh Generation brand cleaning products online two years ago after learning that her oldest child, now 7, had celiac disease, a gluten intolerance. Ms. McKee said that although the disease is not caused by toxins in the home, dealing with it raised her awareness about other health issues. [italics mine]

“That really woke me up,” Ms. McKee said. “I really need to make sure our home is safe.” She lost confidence in the cleaners she had been using in part because the labels of some products do not list all of their ingredients. That made it impossible to know what her family was being exposed to when she sprayed the windows, she said.

I love this, even after it’s gone through the journalistic clarifying filter. People’s ideas jump from one arena to the next. We conflate different concerns. Ask someone about their eating habits, and they’ll talk about exercise, or ask about being fit and they’ll talk about bedtime, or how to stay calm and deal with stress. We’re not good at compartmentalizing. And so ethnographers, using a conversational tool, encounter this all the time. A decision about one thing is related to a concern about something else. Even though there was no causal relationship between the celiac disease and the cleaners (and not to mention that they child already has celiac disease) the person being interviewed puts forth a causal relationship.

I hear this sort of thing all the time when I talk with people, and it’s usually much less clear than this. Complex purchase decisions, tasks, and lifestyle choices (of which our lives are full) often are told in slippery stories that start off in one place and end up in another. Teasing those apart (as this writer did here), asking for clarification, and being open to understanding how A could possibly connect to B in someone’s mind are crucial to getting at those applicable insights.


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