Researcher Grill: Chris Langston

A Facebook Researcher talks accessibility, unique research approaches and technology adoption.

Researchers are used to asking questions. But what happens when the tables are turned? Here at the Researcher Grill, we gently grill a Facebook researcher — get it? — about their work and their life. Our aim is to introduce you to these fascinating people, give you a peek behind the scenes of different research disciplines at Facebook, and maybe even provide some tips you can apply to your own work. Bon appétit!

Name: Chris Langston
Role: Research Manager, Accessibility
Researcher since: 2006, at Facebook since 2017
Miles flown for research this year so far: 38,179
Largest survey sample: 52,000
Most languages in a single qual session: 3 (including 1 sign language)
Longest research trip: 18 days

You, in a nutshell: Researcher, accessibility idealist … bit of a nerd, really.

Most unique research approach? Dyadic interviews with deaf participants who sign in Libras (Brazilian sign language) via real-time translation through 3 languages.

Research that inspired you? A colleague focuses on older technology users and people with low tech skills. It’s the coolest topic ever.

Favorite book + why: Good Omens. Two of my favorite authors collaborating on a comedy about the end of the world.

Favorite quote: “Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom.” — Terry Pratchett

A funny research story?
Once on a research trip, I had the opportunity to visit a very well-known, yet somewhat remote Hindu temple in India. Most of my team was from the region, and I was definitely the only American for miles. The temple had volunteer security from a local boys organization similar to Boy Scouts, and once word got around, I suddenly became an oddity worth getting photos with. It was a lot of fun.

Research that felt immensely important?
Working on accessibility never wins a metrics argument, but is always important. I firmly believe that products should be usable by anyone, regardless of ability, age, or any other characteristic. I’ve had the privilege of speaking with research participants with disabilities in multiple countries, and everywhere I go the issues are the same. We’ve really got to step up as an industry and commit to a fully accessible world.

Most innovative method of sharing research?
Bribery. I like to tempt coworkers to attend research debriefs with food. It usually breaks down barriers and makes people a lot more eager to have a discussion.

Most challenging project?
I needed to connect with several native signers in Brazil to understand how they used a given technology. They signed Libras, which, like ASL and most other sign languages, is not a translation of a spoken language but a native language of its own. My participants could not hear me or our local moderator, nor could we interpret sign. We hired a team of interpreters and translators who set us up with headsets, enabling us to conduct interviews with real-time translation from Libras to Portuguese and then finally to English.
 
It worked really well! Within a few minutes of our first session, the voiceover began to sync with the participants and we could understand them very effectively. We even got to attend a few classes, and by the end of the trip we were conversing with 20+ students at a time.

Biggest question I’d love to investigate but haven’t:
Outside work, I spend a lot of time these days thinking about the differences between formal education that happens in classrooms or structured settings vs. informal education that happens through word of mouth or friend networks — especially as these learning models pertain to technology adoption. In accessibility studies, I’ve observed that formal education is critical, but formal networks don’t often emphasize the core skills necessary to use, say, a phone instead of a computer. I really want to understand how we can optimize the next generation of learning strategies for tomorrow’s devices, instead of assuming every student will own a laptop. How can a smartphone and the networks it enables be leveraged as a top-tier educational tool?


We’re always on the lookout for talented researchers like Chris to join our team. See our open roles here!