The Design Research Field Kit: What equipment to bring for in-home interviews.



5. January 2019

Read time

5 min


Design Research

Over the past few years we’ve perfected our design research field kit. We’ve compiled this list to be both 
flexible and comprehensive. This kit ensures you won’t miss a moment.

We like to tell real stories from the participants in our studies, using rich footage captured in the field. This way our partners feel as if they were there themselves during the interviews.

Our main principle: Record but don’t interfere

During your research in the field, the highest priority is to gather authentic insights from participants. To do this, you want your participants to focus on the conversation, not on the equipment you bring. Our field teams always consist of 2 people: the interviewer and the documenter. The interviewer leads the conversation. It’s the documenters job to capture as much information as possible, while not interfering with the ongoing interview.

To make sure we don’t miss a thing, the documenter uses several methods to record throughout the interview. This ranges from taking notes, recording audio, taking photos and recording video. To ensure you capture everything without being distracting to the participant we’ve made a careful selection of equipment to take with you into the field.

Tip: We use a transparent carrying bag for our equipment when doing in-home interviews to put our participants at ease.

Audio and Notes for transcription

During an interview, the documenter can only capture so much information. Having the ability to scrub through a recording of the complete interview afterwards is important to make sure our findings are complete and unbiased.

For note taking we use an application called Pear Note. It allows the documenter to type and record audio simultaneously. The notes are timestamped to the audio recording, making it easy to go back and listen to parts of the interview again. We use the recordings to find verbatim quotes and make sure our notes are accurate.

    The equipment

  • Laptop
  • Laptop-charger
  • Travel adapter
  • External microphone

Tip: We run Pear Note on a laptop with Apple earbuds as an external mic. The earbuds reduce the sound of the keyboard clicking in the recording.

Video for quotes

We use a GoPro to record a continuous video of the interview. This acts as our baseline audio & visual back up, so we never miss a good quote. The camera’s small size and discrete appearance blends into the room, allowing participants to forget that it is there. A GoPro does not have a recording limit like many other cameras do, and it doesn’t have issues with overheating during long sessions. It’s been our most trustworthy continuous camera to date. We hook up the GoPro to a power bank, allowing us to run the camera for several interviews in a row without running out of battery. Finally, it is super portable. If the participant should choose to show the interviewer something in another room, everything is captured.

    The equipment

  • GoPro Hero 5 Session
  • 2x 128GB memory card (good for at least 6 hours of video per card, 1 spare)
  • Power bank - 10.000mAh (good for 15 hours of continuous recording)
  • USB-C Charging cable
  • Mini tripod

Tip: Don’t forget to turn off the front-facing red LED on the GoPro as it can be distracting to participants.

High quality photos and video for compelling visuals

While both the Pear Notes and GoPro footage serve the purpose of recording the interview, they aren’t the best for creating a compelling visual story for your client. For this purpose we bring a Sony A7s series camera. We recommend using a camera that works well in low-light or high contrast situations. We’ve chosen the Sony A7s for the job but a similar high-end mirrorless or DSLR camera will do the job. When on the road you never know what to expect, so bringing a camera that can record high quality footage in a myriad of situations is essential.

During an interview you cannot depend on auto-focus to do a good job. Many cameras allow you to zoom in during filming to check focus if the subject has moved. You only get one chance to film real reactions to a question, so use manual adjustments to make sure your picture is sharp.

We use a fast prime lens (35mm) to record documentary style videos of the interview. Including the context around the participant is key to capturing the context of the interview and a wide-angle lens allows for this even in tight spaces. If you can, bring a wide-angle zoom lens (28-70mm) for shots around the location for added context. We mount a Rode boom mic on top of the camera to capture quality directional sound that we can edit in post. In the end, it is the voice of your participant which best tells the story to your client.

    The equipment

  • Sony A7s (or DSLR camera)
  • Wide-angle lens (28-70mm)
  • Fast prime (35mm)
  • 2x 64GB SD-Card (1 spare)
  • 2x camera batteries (1 spare)
  • Rode Boom Mic
  • Gorillapod

Tip: Run a quick test of your audio on your camera before each interview session to ensure the boom mic is attached correctly. Getting great sound is imperative to the success of your storytelling.

Alternative camera

Chances are your organization has already bought a camera for research, and that camera is a Canon DSLR. If this is the case, we recommend you install Magic Lantern firmware on your camera. This adds much needed functionality for checking focus and light during recording, allowing you to capture the highest quality video.

Data management & Back-up

Interview footage takes a lot of disk space. At the end of the day the research team backs up everything from the memory cards onto two external hard-drives. We double store every file each evening to mitigate the risk of losing any data. Afterwards, we can clear our memory cards for the next day. Uploading select files to cloud storage allows the team to off-load some of the processing work to a team back in the studio.

    The equipment

  • Memory card reader with SD and micro SD card slot
  • 2x External Hard Disk Drives, 2TB or larger (1 is for backup)
  • Power strip (for charging equipment at night)
  • Cloud storage plan (for sharing footage with remote parties; i.e. Google drive / Dropbox)

The Design Research Field Kit will help you capture rich observations in the field, and make sure that you won’t miss a moment that can help convince your client.

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