Group Speak

By: Troy Nottingham
December 1, 2015

Awkward Research Moments

I’ll never forget this one … maybe because it was one of my first projects … maybe it was the topic.  So, there I was, 2 months into my career in research, sitting in this focus group room with a woman twice my age.  We were in front of the glass.  Behind the glass were my boss and 12 of our clients.

I grew up in a very southern, very etiquette driven environment – where you held a door, lit a cigarette and stood whenever a woman entered the room.  I went to an all male college where we had bumper stickers that said: HSC – Where men are men and women are guests.  So, up to that point, most of my conversations with women twice my age were perfunctory, polite and sanitized.  I am not sure I had ever asked a woman her age, discussed her weight or probed on any personal issue.

So, imagine my chagrin when sitting 3 feet across a desk (with the video cameras rolling) asking this woman – who could have been my mother – if she preferred the client’s new design for an anatomically correct specimen cup.   You know, specimen cup.  The one the nurse gives you for depositing your urine sample.   Yes, there we were.  Imogene and myself discussing specimen cups.  I couldn’t help but think this was God’s way of saying maybe this research thing really wasn’t in the stars for me.

Yet, as the project rolled on and we were deep in the interviewing process, I came to realize that specimen cups are products.  Products people have to use.  So, why wouldn’t they be fair game for research?  In fact, what if the specimen cups women are currently using are messy, difficult to use or even painful?  Then I, in fact, could be providing a valuable service.   So, I just needed to get over myself and man up to the fact that people actually talk about this kind stuff – unabashedly and while on camera.

Turns out, women (at least the ones we interviewed…and we interviewed a lot of them) were perfectly happy with the current variety of specimen cup.  Go figure.   The better news, though, was the fact that I made it through the whole Imogene ordeal – and did the same with 39 other women.  By the end of the project, I could talk about bodily functions and not bat an eyelash – which set me up well for later in my career when I had to talk about new products for a tampon manufacturer.  But most importantly, I learned that every product owner wants to know what people think about his/her “baby” and, thus, can benefit from research.

Before closing, I feel I should give some props to Imogene – without her, Lord knows where I would be.