Research Methodologies

Apr 30, 2020

The second semester is amongst other things focusing on preliminary research. Besides an extensive literature review I tried to implement a first approach to applied research. As discussed with my coach, I concentrated on Apple’s AirPods as a technological artifact.

My intention was to investigate what relationship people have to this object, what values and assumptions are going into that relationship. As a short reminder: I’m generally interested in how design can push users to a better care-practice of technological artifacts.



After deciding on the use case I first wanted to get a general overview of the demographics of users, which would inform who I chose to interview. I had a rough idea where I could setup camp from preliminary attentiveness in public space. There seem to be roughly two age groups that wear AirPods in public.

I could target the first group through a setup in a McDonalds shortly after working-hours and the later in a setup during the day in a co-working space. I sadly lost my notes from the co-working space. But here would be the data of the McDonalds session.

A basic takeaway from the observation sessions were, that AirPods minimally disturb social relations in public space through the invasiveness in social interactions. Especially when the participants of an exchange don’t know each other, the knowledge that the other can hear us is important. There are no indicators visible to the non-wearer, if the wearer of AirPods is present in listening or not.


I setup the interview in order to listen to users of AirPods to talk about their relationship with the artifact. I wanted to collect a vocabulary, other then my own, to talk about said relationship. The interviews were semi-structured and went along the following guidelines.


Interviewee hat AirPods

  1. Nennung Marke und Model
  2. Beschreibung des Objekts in eigenen Worten
  3. Wie zum Objekt gekommen
  4. Wann / Wozu getragen, wie oft
  5. Was passiert mit Objekt wenn nicht in Gebrauch
  6. Pflege und Unterhalt
  7. Anekdoten zum Tragen des Objektes / AirPods
  8. Stellenwert als Accessoire / Popularität

Interviewee hat keine AirPods

  1. Kurze Präsentation von Objekt
  2. Was für eine Meinung / Haltung / Vorstellung von Objekt
  3. Pflege und Unterhalt
  4. Anekdoten zum Tragen des Objektes / AirPods
  5. Stellenwert als Accessoire / Popularität

Vorstellung Technik

The interview was two-parted, where as the first part was the classical semi-structured discussion on aspect of feelings and handlings of the airpods and the second part was a free discussion on the implications of problematic material used in the AirPods, after a brief presentation on said material.

I did 6 interviews, 4 with participants who own and use AirPods and 2 with participants who do not own AirPods.

I have yet to review the interviews again, but generally I have to say that I was too biased in my approach, or to demanding what I wanted from the interviews. I searched for a reflected view on the subject and participants who could answer or discuss reflected but didn’t include those aspects when I searched for interviewees. Nonetheless, the interviews were interesting and rich in findings.

Main takeaways:

All the interview were recorded on video.

RPG Interview

Since I’m preoccupied with the question on animistic design, and how it would influence a care-practice, I tried to do an experimental interview. The method of roleplaying in design research is nothing new, but usually takes inspiration from theater. I wanted to have a setup, where the participant is emotionally more invested. Therefor I took inspiration from pen and paper roleplaying games. A few factors are beneficial to my approach:

With two separate participants I played out a short 15-minute segment in which the player’s sister is kidnapped by a robot. The world in which this is happening, Tales from the Loop, is described as the 80ies but with some technological advanced which push technology right into the magical. The players in this world occupy personas of kids. After a short chase and a dramatic scene, the robot and the sister leave behind and artifact, which delivers an audio-connection to the sister. It is basically in it’s functionality very close to AirPods - but I let the player complete control over how the artifact is actually designed.

This method was interesting from a speculative standpoint to generate the design of an object from a highly emotional and individualistic point of view.

Cultural Probe

I wanted to do a cultural probe with a pair of AirPods and a participant, who did not formerly own and use AirPods or similar technology. Unfortunately the pair broke down before the participant could start with the tasks given. I would have loved to see the results and might consider to repeat the approach once more.


To setup methods is not easy and this has to be carefully reflected. I consider myself lucky, that the interviews are still rich in findings. The same counts for the observation: Without a clear frame of what and who should be observed, there is not much value in doing it.

I will do a rephrasing on what I’m looking for in the interviews before I review them. I might consider concentrating on one simple aspect, for example their knowledge of care and cleaning for the AirPods. I also have to listen closely to what has not been said.

The experimental approach was very interesting and I would love to use this method for research in the future as a think or discussion piece. I see a lot of potential for pen and paper rpg driven workshops for collaborative story-making and discussion drivers.

Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash