UX Research Methods as Characters From The Office

I attempted to personify 15 UX research methods as characters from The Office.

It was really hard.

1. Focus Groups: Michael Scott

Focus groups are designed to elicit users’ attitudes, desires, and reactions, and what better elicitor of reactions is there than Michael Gary Scott? Michael has a real knack for provoking others but, just like focus groups, he can also fall victim to groupthink. Just as focus groups are often criticized for being an unreliable research method, Michael is criticized for being an unreliable manager. And, just like Dunder Mifflin employees would never blindly follow Michael’s advice, you should never rely on focus groups as your sole source of usability data.

2. Interviews: Pam Halpert

As a method which exposes the true thoughts and feelings of a participant, interviews draw a natural parallel to the office sweetheart, Pam. Much like the evolution of a user interview, Pam’s character builds in complexity and significance as the series progresses. Throughout the many intimate conversations she shares with her coworkers, it is Pam’s capability of knowing when to push a little more and when to bite her tongue that yields the most compelling insight.

3. Card Sorting: Jim Halpert

Perhaps the most approachable UX research method, card sorting, shares several characteristics with the most lovable salesman there ever was, Jim Halpert. During the countless heart-to-hearts Jim shares with his coworkers, he serves as mediator, encouraging others to make their own decisions. Like Jim, card sorting challenges people to not only think about a given scenario, but prompts them to actually navigate through it.

4. True-Intent Studies: Dwight Schrute

True-intent studies are validated through skilled questioning and close observation, much like the resident office detective, Dwight K. Schrute. Similar to poorly timed true-intent surveys, Dwight can be characterized as aggressive or annoying. But, though he may come off a little strong, Dwight’s devotion to solving problems is what makes him such a valuable asset.

5. Surveys: Stanley Hudson

Good surveys are brief, familiar, and to the point, just like the ‘no frills’ salesman, Stanley Hudson. Unfortunately surveys can also be to some users what Michael is to Stanley — a trigger. Just like with survey results, you never know if you’re going to get “Florida Stanley” or “melt Ryan’s face off for getting too close to his daughter Stanley”. When analyzing survey results, just remember the many faces of Stanley and proceed with caution.

6. Usability Benchmarking: Angela Martin

Usability benchmarking demands meticulous planning and precision, characteristics which also describe one Dunder Mifflin accountant to a T, Miss Angela Martin. Angela always puts a great deal of effort into her job and takes her work very seriously, be it managing payroll or planning parties. But, just like with usability benchmarking, when Angela is distracted, her work suffers, producing flawed results.

7. Eyetracking: Kevin Malone

Eyetracking is a fairly straightforward research method that, while it can be quite powerful, often lacks depth, much like Kevin Malone. Both eyetracking and Kevin are the true embodiment of “what you see is what you get”. Though Kevin’s character is rooted in simplicity, seeing how he views the world is rather fascinating, like analyzing eyetracking data.

8. A/B Testing: Creed Bratton

A/B Testing yields data that, while substantial, usually leads to more questions, a clear match for office oddity, Creed Bratton. Throughout the series, Creed exudes a level of confidence comparable to that generated by A/B test results. But, just like Creed, you have to take A/B test results for what they are, a clear indication of preference without explanation.

9. Customer Feedback: Andy Bernard

Customer feedback can yield some pretty remarkable user insights, but the results are also extremely unpredictable, like the loose cannon of the office, Andy Bernard. As is true with customer feedback, Andy often manifests elation or rage, and not much in between. The range of emotions elicited by customer feedback can sometimes be difficult to interpret, comparable to Andy’s notorious mood swings.

10. Diary Studies: Ryan Howard

Diary studies are best for studying long-term behavior, making them the perfect fit for the Dunder Mifflin employee with the record for the most job titles held, Ryan Howard. Tune in to any given season of The Office and you might see Ryan the temp, Ryan the VP of Sales, or Ryan the bowling alley employee. But, just like a diary study, if you study Ryan’s character over a period of time, you start to build a much more comprehensive understanding of who he is.

11. Desirability Studies: Kelly Kapoor

Desirability studies are designed to study emotional responses, a clear fit for the office drama queen, Kelly Kapoor. There is certainly some crossover between Kelly’s duties as head of customer relations and the practice of conducting desirability studies, like the necessity to question people’s emotional responses. And, as is the case when talking to Kelly, you must approach desirability studies with poise, realizing you might not always agree with your users.

12. Field Studies: Oscar Martinez

Field studies demand focused observation and the ability to form connections between multiple points of data, attributes which also depict the composed accountant, Oscar Martinez. Oscar has a history of scrutinizing user behavior and making his own deductions about what he witnesses, both elements required of successful field studies. Field studies produce some of the most fruitful user findings, but, like Oscar, the method is a also bit sophisticated.

13. Usability Testing: Phyllis Vance

Usability testing is the mother of all UX research methods (imho), making it the perfect pick for the mother figure of The Office, Phyllis Vance. Like Phyllis, usability testing is not a leader, but rather a medium that allows users to take center stage. Both Phyllis and usability testing react poorly to change, and the more you deviate from routine, the less helpful they become.

14. Participatory Design: Meredith Palmer

Participatory design gives users a seat at the table, allowing them to express what matters the most to them. The principles of participatory design share some solid attributes with the hot mess of The Office, Meredith Palmer. Poor Meredith suffers several misadventures throughout her career at Dunder Mifflin, but as the series progresses, we start to realize that she’s a lot stronger than we thought. When it comes down to it, all Meredith really wants is to be heard, not unlike users in regards to the design of their products.

15. Intercept Surveys: Toby Flenderson

Though they mean well, intercept surveys can be seen as a nuisance as they often appear to users at inconvenient times. It’s doubtful there is a more suitable metaphor for the one-and-only office HR rep, Toby Flenderson. Throughout the series, Toby is constantly shooed away, rejected, or simply disregarded. But just like intercept surveys, when he appears in a less obtrusive manner, Toby can actually unearth some valuable data.

So there you have it! May you go about your research unable to shake these gifs from your memory. 🙃

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