Luggage Can Be Replaced; Your Content Can't

Tips For Conducting Design Research Outside The U.S. (Part 2)

As we revealed in our previous post, conducting in-depth qualitative research outside the U.S. introduces great opportunities, but also barriers that we must overcome to deliver on our promise of quality content. In this post, we want to share the second of two keys to success that have enabled us to achieve our clients' objectives overseas.

Don’t Let Them Speak English (really!)

Since 2013, we have conducted in-depth interviews with research participants based in 35+ different countries. Not surprisingly, in most of these cases English has not been the respondent’s primary language. What has surprised us, however, is how many of these research participants have wanted to speak English during our conversations. In B2B research, respondents have done so out of respect for the companies involved. For some B2C research, we have found certain segments of customers who have desired to demonstrate their mastery.

As thrilling for them and flattering for us as it may be, the reality is when it's not their native language, research participants often struggle to hold conversation in English at emotional and essential levels of discussion; where content generation becomes most critical. We’ve seen even the most experienced individuals fare brilliantly through superficial and intellectual conversation but stumble when trying to articulate more deeply-rooted reasoning.

We were in Copenhagen recently conducting a B2C ethnographic study with a professional who worked in international politics. He was thrilled to host us in his home and his conversational English was exceptional – what a storyteller! We had arranged through our local partner to have a moderator and translator present, but he considered them an unnecessary formality. He became so delightfully insistent he could share his story in English for the duration of the two-hour in-home interview that after some lighthearted debate we opted to let him try.

His English through the first 30-40 minutes of the interview was excellent as he took control of the stage, providing us with an impassioned tour of the key areas of his home and responding to questions about the products he owned; things we would consider baseline content to establish rapport and a foundation for laddering into deeper tiers of conversation.

As we began to take the interview into more emotional territory, seeking out the “why” behind his attitude and decision-making, however, the flow of the conversation became erratic. He began pausing mid-sentence, raising his eyes upwards as if his words had escaped him and ran to the ceiling. He began to look to the moderator and translator for help with a single word, then an expression. It was evident English was not serving him as well as his native Danish when it came to articulating what mattered to him most and why. It was then that he paused and smiled, waving his finger at us in realization that we had been right.

Don’t risk compromising your content. Whether you're conducting interviews onsite or remotely, set expectations in advance through your local partner and respectfully push back if participants insist they want to try and speak English with you present. In every case, hire a professional interpreter through your local partner and have them on hand. To further enhance quality and efficiency, leverage one of your partner’s moderators as well.