What did we learn by using our 'Seeing Interview' method, in our experimental research for Akzo Nobel? The method was to take photographs over two visits to participants' homes, show these photos to participants during our conversations and analyse them. We had intended to ask them to take photos too and would do this in future, but time counted against this in our study.
A curious thing happened. By having our attention less exclusively focused on what participants said, we learned more about them. We were not in 'interrogation mode'. We were 'distracted' by looking around their home and this seemed to encourage them to say more.
Product designers IDEO encourage us to 'listen with our eyes' to discover what people really care about.
Secondly it revealed things through the objects we photographed. Neil MacGregor wrote 'A history of the world in 100 objects' for a BBC Radio4 series. The objects told intertwining stories 'of endless connections'. On a much smaller scale the objects we photographed enriched our understanding of participants' stories and values.
For example, Karen's necklace encapsulates her style and aesthetic: subtle sophistication, intricacy and confidence. It perfectly reflected the way she talked about light, colour, materials and textures.
Thirdly, using photography enabled us to reflect not only what we saw in front of us, but also how we felt about what we saw, helping us to express and visualise ideas about our participants. For example, this photo evoked the particular feeling Karen called fizzy – a specific vibrancy, dynamism or excitement which mattered to her.
We also learned a great deal about the subject of colour, not only in terms of how a particular group of people viewed and chose colour for their home, but also in more general terms.
For example, we all know that colour is highly subjective, everyone sees colours differently. But did you know that up to about 10% of all men have a form of colour vision deficiency, but only about 0.5% of women? We'd say that colour is identity, it’s a technology of the self. It both reflects our world and allows us to project aspects of ourselves and make them manifest.
Colour is ‘dimensional’, meaning there is colour within colour. We subliminally reference other colours in how we see a particular part of the colour spectrum.
And you cannot separate colour from texture. Different textures reflect light differently which dictates how colour is experienced. And textures suggest feelings, they make vision tactile, and suggest visual pleasure.
Which may be all very well and rather technical, but as we were asked, the subject of colour/home decorating obviously lends itself to a visual approach, could other research topics also be illuminated using the Seeing Interview approach?
Our answer is yes, due to what the approach offers and also what makes a photograph different to an image/snapshot. All will be revealed in the last instalment.