Guerrilla research: quick, not dirty

By Maria Rezende

Guerrilla research is primarily known as an alternative research methodology for teams that need to gather user insight, but have minimal budget. However, its value relies on its fast turnaround.

The term guerrilla is a play on the ‘impromptu’ nature of this research methodology, in which you are out in the ‘wild’ - talking to real people on the street. When conducting guerrilla research you need to be mindful of adapting your approach to these circumstances.

Despite its name, guerrilla research can provide reliable results if the approach is planned rigorously and the implementation is systematic and consistent. However, due to the influence of misleading expressions like ‘just do it’ and ‘quick and dirty’, more often than not we see designers and researchers applying it incorrectly.

In this article, we’ll show you the benefits of guerrilla research, highlight when it is appropriate to apply, and equip you with eight rules of thumb to follow when conducting guerrilla research. 

We hope that from following these recommendations you will have a better understanding of the value of this approach and have learnt how you can make the most of it.

Why should you do Guerrilla Research?

Guerrilla Research allows teams to test and gather insights from users in an agile and iterative way without lengthy previous planning, this means that guerilla research can be deployed to answer questions which arise in the design phase as soon as they are asked. 

For businesses, it can aid decision-making, reduce the risk of launching a product that isn’t useful or functional, and help projects move faster and more effectively.

It is fast, it is cheap, and it is reliable.

In addition to these points, we have observed that this approach adds real-life texture to overall findings because: 

  • People are more relaxed and intrinsically motivated to participate. This gives more enthusiastic, and less rehearsed/bland responses.
  • There is less of an ‘observation effect’. Sessions have more energy, you receive more imaginative, creative and open responses and ideas.
  • You can expect to observe more natural behaviours and interactions with your product. Participants are more at home in the environment around them and are likely to closely mimic the product’s context of use.

When to do guerrilla research?

The goal of guerrilla research is not to provide detailed results, but just enough insight to help you make informed decisions which help move projects forwards.

You should not look to answer complex questions and nor should it be applied in circumstances where you need to talk to an exact profile of respondents, as you will not be able to pre-recruit. 

Because of its limitations, guerrilla research isn’t a blanket method for user-research and it’s advisable to supplement it with other qualitative and quantitative research techniques.

Although, the benefits outweigh the limitations, insights are rich and the approach can be applied throughout different phases of the design, with four main purposes in mind: 

  • To explore your problem space when you need an injection of customer insight to build on your current understanding.
  • To help you iterate on what your design team has created from wireframes to prototypes.
  • To increase the maturity of designs before advancing in-depth, comprehensive, research methods.
  • To quickly validate insights from other forms of research with a larger pool of users in a more natural setting.

How to do guerrilla research

Knowing when and why to do guerrilla research is fundamental to making sure teams and businesses are adopting the right approach to their users’ needs. But, without adopting the right approach in the field you will not get the results you need to aid implementation.

To help you get the most out of your guerrilla research whilst offering you an indication of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to onboarding stakeholders and participants in the process, here are eight pointers to follow:

1) Planning is key

Don’t go out and approach people randomly and ask for their opinions about your designs. Guerrilla research should be quick, but good results follow good planning and rigorous implementation. So plan before you go out.

2) Keep it simple

Guerrilla research is not ideal if you have lots of complex questions to ask. Participants are on the go and often standing, so sessions shouldn’t be longer than 10-15 minutes.

3) Look for independency 

You don’t want your research to be biased by the people conducting or responding to it. Be professional and never approach friends, acquaintances or colleagues to answer your questions or tasks.  

4) Define your ideal target

You won’t have carefully recruited participants, but that doesn’t mean that you should be indiscriminate in your approach. Define the profile of the people you would like to talk to and find the best places to reach out to them. 

5) Work on your approach

Hailing down people in the street is challenging and at times, demoralising. Make sure you are clearly identified, work out an engaging script, and consider offering participants a small incentive for their time. 

6) Consider your locations carefully 

Choose a location that is as close as possible to the realistic context of use. If this isn’t possible, be aware of any biases that might be introduced by the research setting. If respondents are approached in the wrong environment this may affect their frame of mind and ability to respond without bias. 

7) Think about your environment

Think about environmental challenges: sunshine, glare, rain, gloves, interacting on-the-go – be mindful that your research should try and mitigate these factors where possible. 

8) Be flexible in your approach

Scale, refocus and modify your tactics based on how it’s going. This process can be more iterative than doing rigorous research in the lab. 

The take away – quick, not dirty. 

Guerrilla research is no better or worse than any other method. It’s ideal for circumstances when design teams need quick input from users to be able to move on with projects. Make sure you implement it right. The key to success is to know when, why and how to use it - context is key. Always remember: Quick, not dirty.

Maria Rezende

As a Senior Consultant at Foolproof, my job is to help our clients develop customer experiences that will positively impact people and businesses.

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