They’re just people – or how NOT to have a mental breakdown when talking to strangers.

So, we managed to get our idea together, we created assumptions for our product and our problem. Great. Now the (for me anyway) most dreaded part of the whole process.

Going out and talking to complete strangers about our idea, asking questions and overall having an interaction outside of our little university bubble.

In the design process, having a direct access to your user and regular communication are extremely important for development of your product. It allows relatively cheap and very quick method of feedback for adaptation, improvement and development. After all, when we create, we create for people, to improve their lives and solve their issues. So it makes sense that you go and speak to them directly when you have doubts or questions or you just wanna test your outcome.

When we were covering this part of the process in class, it really did make sense to me and it made me wonder why other companies doing the business “the traditional” way weren’t focusing on their end consumer/customer/user/HUMAN more. – I don’t have an answer, I am still wondering, so if anyone knows, hit me up with some knowledge!

Anyway…..we understood it was important to go out and find our users and talk to them about their needs, wants, lives, opinions so we could move on in the process.

BUT!

It’s not that easy, to go out and speak to complete strangers at the mall or on the street. It’s scary! Super scary. And for someone like me, who struggles with high functioning anxiety that sometimes turns into major social struggles, interacting with strangers is a rather impossible task.

Well, it’s not impossible. I did it. It wasn’t fun. But I did it and I will do it again.

When you google “how to talk to people”, you will get numerous tips. I googled and I got some tips. Not all of them were useful but there were some good ones – so I’m sharing:

http://tinybuddha.com/blog/11-ways-to-turn-strangers-into-friends/

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/10-simple-ways-talk-with-stranger-comfortably.html

https://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/the-shy-persons-guide-to-talking-to-strangers/

I took some of the advice and created my own “toolkit” for approaching strangers. I am not a professional or an expert, so if this doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry, but it helped me, so, again, sharing is caring friends:

  • Breathe! – When you’re nervous, your breath is more shallow than usual, your body doesn’t have enough oxygen and it goes into a little freak out. Adrenalin, cortisol (stress hormone) and other yummy stuff have a little party in your innards and you panic and freeze. Deep, conscious breathing will help you think clearly, you will sweat less, shake less and the experience will be better.
  • Think about the opening line – When you are approaching people on the street, have a line you will start with – “Hi I’m from Kingston university, I promise I’m not selling anything I just want to chat for a minute….” – a little silly joke might be a bonus to break to tension. But knowing what you’re going to say will help you feel prepared and confident.
  • Awkward is OK! – Talking to strangers is uncomfortable, for both sides. So when you feel awkward, it might actually play to your benefit. It did for me, anyway. I guess people feel a little empathy, when you look a little awkward. So just accept and embrace you awkward and turn it into your mojo!
  • Listen! – Don’t expect an answer, don’t anticipate it. Truly listen to what people have to say and accept the direction of the conversation that the user chooses. The unexpected turns will give you the real and valuable insight.
  • Just try it. – People DO NOT bite (and if they do, it’s not the norm). So the worst thing that can happen is that they will say “No thank you, I don’t want to talk to you.” – and that really isn’t the end of the world. Just shake it off and move on.
  • Pick your humans. – Observe them, you analyse and predict who will be more approachable and who won’t. Don’t go for the grumpy ones, or for the fast walkers. Sometimes people in twos are good – they are usually not in a rush. Simply, don’t make it too difficult for yourself and choose people you feel good about – trust your gut.
  • Create a persona! – This is something I took from the theatre world as that’s more of my field. Choosing a character and “playing” that character might help you feel less awkward and anxious – it’s not you, it’s the character, so it feels ok. I know, it sound a little weird, but getting into the “brain space” of a professional seller, or someone who is uber-confident might actually give you some extra boost to tackle the task.
  • Smile. – Simple, yet very effective. Think about it. I’m pretty sure you personally would rather talk to a smiley person than someone  aggressive and not very pleasant looking. (Don’t have a creepy smile on though, that is never a good look!)

Now I know I can do it. Go out and smile and ask and get answers. We tested our idea both before and after we prototyped and from my observation, people respond to physical, when they have something to look at and play with. But if I was to do it again, I’d go out and test our assumptions before prototyping again. It helped us move in the right direction. Having a “designer” mindset has been a challenge, but as long as you communicate and keep the user in your mind constantly, you shouldn’t loose track. So just think of the people 🙂

M.

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