In running trials of a new technology, one always hopes to generate a neat profile of the type of person who will value and use the technology in question. But it never works out quite like that. In every technology trial we’ve ever run, we end up with a mix of the following types of people involved. The first 3 types are the really valuable ones – you can learn all sorts of useful things from them. The last 3 types contribute little but they always turn up in the mix.
The innovators – these people grab the technology and start using it for all sorts of interesting things – including things you’d never thought of. They are gold dust and you always get a few of them and they are more often women than men.
The collaborators – these people use the technology, see its value to them and then start working enthusiastically with you to improve the design because it’s now in their interest that the product is successful. Creating a set of these “informed users” is one of the most useful aspects of running a trial.
The accidental bug finders – these people unerringly find any faults which are lurking in your prototype system or user model. They don’t mean to and are very apologetic when something suddenly “doesn’t work” or “breaks” or they “can’t remember which button to press”. They think, unfortunately, it’s their fault but it isn’t, it’s yours. Value these people as they’ll save you a lot of time and money further down the track!
The passive anoraks – these are the self-styled technical experts who don’t actually use the technology (or even volunteer for the trial) but they hang around the fringes, asking endless technical questions and telling you about faster/better/cheaper ways it could have been designed despite never having built one themselves. They are the most irritating and it’s rare to learn anything from them.
The active anoraks – techie enthusiasts who will sign up to try any new technology! They’re much more fun than the passive anoraks but they don’t tend to provide very useful data or insights. They are so focused on the technology, they can’t think what to actually use it for! And they are so enthusiastic, they overlook the faults.
The non users – this is perhaps the strangest set but we always encounter a few in any trial. They enthusiastically sign up for a trial but never actually do anything with the technology once they get it. And, unfortunately, it’s never very clear why! Just odd.
One is left with an uncomfortable feeling that, if you were to use exactly the same individuals for every technology trial, however diverse the application, the same people would fall into the same categories every time!