Posted by Alex Lee on Jan 13, 2021 8:30:00 AM

In America, maximizing productivity has become the gold standard. And, despite reactive pushes for the normalization of mindfulness and rest to balance out this grind, many of us still take on a bashful tone when we tell our coworkers that we binged all three seasons of Cobra Kai and logged 15 hours playing World of Warcraft when they ask how our weekend went. It’s as though our collective consciousness is still haunted by our parents’ well-meaning, but misinformed voices telling us that “Television rots your brain,” or, “Video games are a waste of time.” 

So what do you do when your product is considered by some to be something purely for leisure and entertainment, and possibly a “waste of time,” but you want to increase engagement? 

Conducting UX research in the entertainment space presents a unique challenge. These services and content are about enjoyment, engagement, and leisure. They aren’t seen as inherently useful like B2B software or productivity apps are. It can be tempting to simply conclude that your infrequent users are shackled by the aforementioned universal guilt of entertainment being a waste of time. As a result, some might succumb to employing addicting “dark UX” design patterns that keep users on your site for longer. This is the “easy way” out, but it’s not in the spirit of the human-centered research and design we conduct at AnswerLab. By taking a more holistic approach to the research, we can keep user needs and wants at the center of the conversation and build products they actually want to use more.

The Problem: Understanding “the why” of entertainment services vs. task based products

Last year, we worked with a media entertainment client who wanted to better understand how to recapture their infrequent users and gain new ones. These insights would help them inform their next steps of either repositioning the product or making feature improvements. Their existing database told us there were indeed many infrequent users, and previous usability research and satisfaction metrics ruled out any obvious usability barriers. They weren’t sure what was happening, and they needed a plan to uncover the deeper reasons for their customers’ lack of use.

How We Responded: A holistic and foundational approach to uncover meaningful insights

Unlike discovering usability issues, uncovering decision-making behaviors isn’t surface level, and often can’t be answered simply by asking someone “Why don’t you use this?” This holds especially true for entertainment products where people don’t usually think about why they enjoy or don’t enjoy something in their daily life. These are often not conscious decisions. They just think something is fun or they don’t. Uncovering the reasoning behind this is very different from traditional task-based research.

The ultimate goal of our research was to have a conversation with infrequent users and extract a meaningful answer that could get our clients the insights they needed. But first, we had to lay the groundwork for our conversation by having them start to consider their daily entertainment choices. 

To accomplish this, we asked 50 participants to participate in a two-week diary study prior to one-on-one interviews. Throughout the study, they responded to two types of questions:

  1. Logging information about how they spent their free time that day, any activity they did, for how long, how much they enjoyed it, and if they experienced any internal or external barriers. We classified “internal” as problems with the site/app/product/activity and “external” as other life obligations.
  2. Logging every time they used the client’s product, why they used it that day, for how long, and what their experience was like.

Both of these helped participants think consciously about their leisure activities (including our client’s product), observe when they were doing them, and evaluate their level of enjoyment. And it ultimately helped us elucidate the decision-making that goes into choosing a product and the frequency with which they use it. We discovered that our client’s product was often losing out to the other available leisure activities for a variety of previously unforeseen reasons.

The Impact: Showcasing complex data in clear, empathy-building formats

To make an impact in the organization, we needed to humanize our client’s users and help their executives and designers reframe their mindset. Rather than giving into the easy patterns of entrapment, our diary study helped our stakeholders see into users’ daily lives and find ways to build a better product that actually fits their needs and habits.

With copious amounts of complex data from over 50 users, we had to find a clear and usable method for conveying this information to the executives making product decisions. We created a holistic view of their user base through illustrated stories about the day-in-the life of an infrequent user. These multi-panel “comics” featured different user archetypes to show where and how the product fit into their day-to-day. We also captured their needs and motivations for leisure time and where the product could change or evolve to fit better.

Our team uncovered a few avenues for both improving existing features and moving in new directions. And due to the easily digestible nature of the comic format, executives were able to refer back to these archetypes into the future as they navigated the product development process.

Want to learn more about foundational research for entertainment and gaming? Contact us to speak with a strategist.

Topics: Research