- contextual inquiry
- digital transformation
Take a step back to go forward
Our client originally came to us because they wanted to do UX research on a product they were currently building – an online service to help crop farmers with all the planning and documentation required on today’s farms. But during our discussion, we discovered together that what they really needed to find out was not how to optimize the usability of their service, but how users could generally benefit from the digital transformation on farms, typically called “farming 4.0”.
Of course, our client has talked to farmers before, but usually in the context of sales events and similar occasions. While they had a good understanding of the crop-related phases during the year and what kind of activities happen during these phases, they lacked insight into how exactly farmers perform these activities, where the highlights and pain points lie for them, and essentially what drives them to excel in their profession. Without answers to these underlying questions, optimizing the service was not possible.
And to answer these questions, they needed to take a step back.
In the trenches
We set out to learn about what makes farmers tick. We knew inviting a couple of farmers to a focus group would do no good, because it would be too removed from the actual work environment. We would have to meet them on their own turf. Also, speaking to them individually would make sure they would let us in on the tricks of the trade and all the occasions where the official processes deviate from the “way it’s really done”. Therefore, we decided to do contextual inquiries: a road trip to Germany’s farms in a car full of researchers and clients.
Our session guide included a rough outline of the year’s phases and a lot of detailed questions. but our main objective was to have the farmers take us through a typical year in as much detail as possible. Our goal was to learn about the little details, the tricks and custom-built tools they would use to tackle every-day problems – which they would never have mentioned in a focus group. And, essentially, what they love and hate about farming.
As soon as one of the farmers got up to go outside and get a few sample crops to then passionately argue a point, we knew we had chosen the right methodology. And of course, we were offered schnapps – at 10 in the morning.
What makes farmers tick
We took away an insane amount of detail, but the gist was this: passionate farmers enjoy the outdoor, hands-on time with their crops. This is the core of their vocation; anything that constrains this experience will be rejected. In other words, it’s not about making the experience as efficient as possible, but rather, allowing them to enjoy it fully. We discovered this critical detail by visiting the farms in person. This allowed the client’s team to re-evaluate their products’ value propositions.
The total output of the study was much more: We created customer journey-style research findings for each of the farmers’ core work streams, including details to make the information easily accessible and support informed decisions going forward. These journeys consisted of the farmers’ actions, thought processes, feelings, and tools in their decision-making and action cycles, with attention to highlights and pain points.