Doing with Theory (1): The Metaphor Elicitation Technique

Nurie Agnes Jeong
Nov 7, 2017 · 5 min read

When we conduct a user testing on a certain technology, let’s say, the AI speaker, a lot of participants answer “This is so cool”, “I want to use it” but in most cases they don’t actually use AI speakers in their real life. Why does this happen?

A lot of tech companies are introducing new technology such as machine learning, mixed reality, artificial intelligence etc., but they haven’t penetrated into our everyday lives yet. This is because we haven’t found any long-term values from the technology. We might use it for fun for a short period time, but definitely we don’t have enough motivation to buy it and use it in a long term. In fact, most users don’t consciously know what they want from the new technology they have never experienced.

So my workshop idea starts from the question; what is the sustainable value that users expect from the technology? This is really hard to find out especially when it comes about the technology that we don’t use often, because users haven’t formed a specific attitude toward it. This is why I pulled the metaphor elicitation technique to discover a hidden needs on the technology.

Introduction of ZMET, the most known metaphor elicitation technique in marketing

Metaphor elicitation is a marking-oriented technique that finds out an unconscious attitude formed inside users’ mind. The goal of this workshop is to understand hidden desires and goals that users want to achieve from a product through symbolic languages, mostly using complex images of digital collage. By making users going deeply into the chain of thoughts, we can gain insights on their behavior and thinking patterns.

Making a Protocol & Topic Selection

Referring to ZMET guideline, I made the interview protocol and worksheet for the pilot user testing. Starting from the conscious thoughts, I will poke them to pull more abstract images from their memory by making a simple digital collage and narrate what it is about. While participants explain about their collage, I will try to interpret it and figure out what kind of hidden values and desires they have in mind.

Pilot Testing

Over the weekend, I conducted a pilot workshop session with 6 participants and observed how effective the workshop was. Since all participants worked on the mixed reality last year, I asked them to write down their immediate thoughts and feelings on Hololens.

After then, I asked them to find digital images related to their thoughts and feelings about the technology and make a digital collage using the template. It was really interesting experience to observe how they create their collage.

At the final step, I asked them to think aloud how they came up with their collage. While explaining their images, I interpreted the stories and recostructed as a hierarchy of mental model. Here’s the key takeaways:

  • While all participants were excited about the new technology, they all felt disappointed in the gap between expectation and reality. (The image of Big Mac showed the explicit disappointment!)
  • As expected, all participants don’t have conscious needs on mixed reality technology. However, I found that most participants have a hidden desire of creating their own world and getting inspired.
  • All participant had overwhelming moments to some extent when using Hololens including physical fatigue and information overload.
  • One really interesting finding was that the participants put the images of ‘old-school technology’ on its bulky hardware while putting images about futuristic hyper-reality about the applications.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of the workshop, I was kind of worried about getting super abstract results that don’t help redesign the experience. However, it turned out to be very meaningful activity to learn about people’s unconscious desire on the new technology. That being said, I had a couple of issues — First, some results were very hard to interpret. Second, depending on how the interpreter analyze the collages, the takeaways will be very different. This is why only certified facilitators can conduct ZMET analysis. Finally, I felt that it’d be better not share my interpretation results with the participants, because when I shared the mental ladder with them, some of them disagree with the result.

My next goal is to develop the second part of the workshop — redesigning a new experience by synthesizing deep metaphors. I hope that I’ll be able to make a full set of new design toolkit at the end.

Design Studies in Practice

Carnegie Mellon School of Design: MDes Seminar III

Nurie Agnes Jeong

Written by

Design Studies in Practice

Carnegie Mellon School of Design: MDes Seminar III

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