Great article Cath. It reminded me (on re-reading) that when undertaking user research we often focus on what we want to learn, how we will evoke the responses we want and how we manage the testing interaction. But we all too frequently gloss over how to overcome the inevitable expectations, mis-perceptions or anxieties subjects bring to the research. It’s all very good and well to rely on charm and ice-breakers, but as your example shows, having a significant ‘scene-resetter’ can help get you onto the right trajectory much faster.
In the past I’ve mostly thought about such ‘tricks’ at the ‘end’ of the testing. Well, when I say that the testing is over and perhaps even turn off recording equipment. As you well know, it’s amazing how people relax into telling you the most important and valuable things in that context versus the ‘formal’ bit.
Maybe such tricks wouldn’t be needed if the set-up and context setting were done better up front.
Thanks again for sharing.