Anything to declare?

Tripod as trumpet holster. Mission, SF.

How packing for fieldwork made me unpack my bias

There’s a good reason for the saying to ‘check your biases at the door’ — carrying assumptions and your own worldview into any situation will influence the way you experience it, even how you behave. But these viewpoints can work in our favour, too.

The psychology of packing

I’m heading into the field — working with a luggage brand to understand attitudes and behaviour of bag-packing.

The research is focused on a specific style of traveller — those who use only carry-on luggage, to answer questions like: “What does how you pack, say about you?” and “How does the way you pack shape the way you travel?”

Rolling with the theory of ‘insights lie at the edges’, we’re including some ‘extreme users’ — travellers who take this calculated and minimal way of travelling seriously. Everything they pack has to earn it’s place in their bag. Some of them even post their gear list online. Every item down to the type of toothbrush listed with pro’s and cons:

Tynan’s obsessively-honed and considered 2016 packing list was viewed over 60K times. Yep.

Now, — full disclosure — I’m not averse to making a list myself (Here’s what’s in my design research kitbag) and I’m a ‘carry-on’ traveller too. I have separate toothbrushes for travel and home. I have an opinion.

…I guess that makes me biased?

But this bias I’m supposed to leave at the door… It provides a benchmark. It brings me closer to the realities of the people I’m trying to understand. It’s why design researchers intentionally immerse in the customer’s context. To be able to relate and compare.

Balancing familiarity with naiveté

On one hand I’m trying to be an empty vessel when discovering a person’s world, but my own experience is a valuable frame of reference, too.

I see ‘checking’ this as akin to accepting it — being self-aware — acknowledging my viewpoint but carefully judging how much of it I reveal to the people I’m trying to understand.

The last thing I need is for them to assume I totally relate to them, speak in short-hand, or hold back from explaining the why behind they do what they do. Or to let my own experience blinker me or funnel toward the familiar.

What’s your baggage allowance?

In this article, a curious traveller with a heavily-inked passport says:

“Leave 10% of your luggage space for what the journey has to offer”

We Kiwis can double down on that. My bag is usually 20% lighter on the way home from offloading gifts of honey, peanut butter, wooly bits and other local delights to friends, and research participants.

For now… I have a bag to pack, and a very real occupational hazard to deal with… I’m analysing what every item says about me, and…

Why I don’t have a special compartment for my biases?.