Letting Go Of Research

UX divining tools

The need for structure, the need for control is a trap for UX and usability research. It is founded on the belief that the academic research patterns of Social Psychology are the best model for the industry.

Coming from an accessibility and person centred design angle, this seems problematic. What it embeds is a very central core of privilege and power in the hands of researchers.

When working with people who are often excluded and generally deliberately de-voiced in public debate, this bias exaggerates pre-existing imbalances.

Alternative ways

There are different ways of working and researching but they are dependent on recognising the biases and letting go of control.

There are many ideas in Indigenous Research Methodologies that can be utilised. They are based on ideas of identity, diversity, intersection and respect.i

I’ll just mention one method here.

Divining meaning

Divination using objects (bones, talismans, etc.) is an ancient method in mostly all cultures.

For example, there are southern African methods called Ditaola.

Ditaola (from Pinterest)

The point is that the objects spread out randomly upon a cloth between person and diviner (between participant and professional in research) act as a space for building mutual meaning.

Sense making is built as both people find metaphorical meaning in the scattering of elements. The power and the privilege is shared and moves across the space.

This is much closer to ideas of perispace in human cognition. That knowledge, experience and capacity exists in a communal, positively charged emotional physical space.

I’ve used such objects and methods in usability workshops to settle people and allow them to align their memories and capabilities with the purpose of the workshop.

This is about empowering and enabling participants so they can provide usability research data that is drawn from a place of strength not one of confusion and lack of privilege.


I talked about these ideas more at the User Centred Design conference in London on 14th October. It was a 40 minute talk/workshop called “Making People Out Of Participants”. You can download the slides here.


More Than Users is a new workshop based on the ideas in this blog. It has been chosen as part of the programme for the IXDA conference in New York in February 2017.

Come along to the workshop where I’ll help people make their own props and stories to enable more person-centered research and usability sessions.

It’ll be on Sunday 5th February from 1.30pm-5.00pm.

You can buy tickets here.

If you want to chat about ideas raised in this blog, please contact me on Twitter Alastair Somerville.




Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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Alastair Somerville

Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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