Recruiting for diversity in qualitative design research
A client asked about whether I had fully considered diversity in the discovery research plans I’d put together for them. They meant had I considered how the plan could possibly cover the right number of different backgrounds and abilities to be representative of their customer base.
They were thinking about diversity in as features of people. I think that’s not quite the right way to think about the problem.
If your goal is to learn about people with different types of neurodiversity (for example) then we should recruit people with different types of neurodiversity. But in design research our goal is often to learn how different people experience some part of the world and then decide how best to design something to support people who experience the world in those different ways. If you call these different ways to experience the world “needs” I won’t mind. 1
So instead of doing research with people from many combinations of abilities and backgrounds, we should do research with people who have similar needs, regardless of their personal similarities and differences.
If we’re making a website to present complex information we could try to do research with people from every possible background in our target audience. Or we could think harder and do research to learn more about different ways people with different abilities read and understand complex texts. We could then try to recruit people whose needs are similar regardless of their unique circumstances.
That way, even if we miss someone with a particular combination of ability and background, we can be more sure that the design outcome is going to support their need.
I was never really a fan of the idea of “needs” but it’s useful shorthand here.↩︎