Moon Stories

The True Value of Field Research


In this three-part series, we look at the purpose, method, and importance of research for startups. While there are numerous research methods, quick and easy methods such as interviews will help you when you’re working with limited resources. The question arises: are we truly gathering sufficient information?

In this first blog, we focus on field research, which is labor and time-intensive, exploring its purpose and importance, and looking at real-life examples from Moon Creative Lab.

Table of Contents

  1. Two main purposes of research
  2. Research Methods
  3. Importance of field research
  4. When should you choose field research?


1. Two main purposes of research

If you are new to creating a business or service, or a seasoned entrepreneur then you should consider research, and here's why. There are two main purposes of research; gathering information to help expand business horizons and corroboration to facilitate decision making.


Gathering information to help expand horizons

We live in a world where many goods and services already exist. But when you want to create something new and unprecedented, research can help you enhance your concept by incorporating useful information from different sources. 

Research, which is the accumulation of knowledge and experience that one does not already have, can broaden your perspective and enable you to come up with new ideas.


Support to facilitate decision-making

The process of developing a new business is having to make a series of decisions with no correct answers. So it is necessary to gather information to support the decision and to objectively verify a hypothesis.

Research gathers materials to support decision-making and suggests what choices should be made. This not only lowers the risk that a new product will fail but also builds the confidence needed to invest resources into the idea and gives investors and teams confidence in its success. This is an important step to pave the way when venturing into uncharted territory.


2. Research methods (use of quantitative and qualitative methods)

There are two types of research methods: quantitative and qualitative, each tailored to the purpose of the research. 


Quantitative research is good for answering questions such as "what" and "how much." It is a method of gathering and analyzing information based on numbers and statistics. Examples include surveys, internet research, and web analytics. It is suitable for large-scale market research, handling large amounts of data, and quantifying trends and patterns.


Qualitative research answers the "why" questions. This method is used to gain a deeper understanding of your target audience’s feelings, behaviors, and values, as well as to uncover the reasons and motivations behind them. It is a good method to focus on specific cases, individual experiences, etc., to gain deep insights and test hypotheses. Examples include interviews, observations, and field research. While interviews are an easy choice in terms of funding, time, and effort, it is important to be aware of the importance of field research, which can yield discoveries that cannot be obtained through interviews, and select research methods accordingly.


3: Importance of field research


Field research is a research method that involves visiting a site, observing, and interacting with a subject in their living environment. Also known as "ethnography," it is a research method used in the field of cultural anthropology. It has the following characteristics:


Capturing the whole picture and context of a problem

When designing a service, it is important to consider the overall picture and context in which it will be used, such as the surrounding environment, background, and related factors when a certain event occurs.

Field research allows for deeper exploration than online or in-office interviews because it seeks to understand the whole situation through direct observation of people's lives.

For example, in our research for Raxi, a treatment app for type 2 diabetics that Moon was incubating, we first visited patients in their homes to understand their living environment and observe the actual situation.

There were problems that we would have missed had we not visited them in person. Specifically, many patients lived alone, were retired from work, and had no one to communicate with daily. There was no one to see them, no one to notice their efforts, no opportunity to praise them. In other words, they were lonely. We thought that the motivation to improve lifestyle was a matter of the patient's self-consciousness, but through research, we realized that motivation is supported by others, and we were able to recognize the shift in perspective.

When asked "Why can't the patient continue to improve his/her lifestyle?" it is easy for the interviewee to be blindsided by the question. Many typical daily living conditions that we take for granted or don’t think about aren’t always the same. Living situations and access to certain resources look different for everyone, and it is this kind of insight that is important when conceiving and defining the functionality of a service.

With this in mind, we built a process for goal-setting with healthcare professionals into the prototype of Raxi, and a feature that tracks and celebrates not only results such as blood glucose levels but also the actions of patients who have achieved 10 days of walking.

By gathering these insights, field research can provide suggestions for conceiving the functionality of the service and defining requirements.


Through experience, we can understand the emotions of the people involved

Seeing is believing, but the best way to understand is not only to see but also to go one step further and experience it. By placing yourself in the environment where your research subjects live and reliving their lives from their perspective, you can share not only knowledge but also emotions to gain deeper insights. Through this process, the Raxi team designed the service as if it were created by the user.

When we researched type 2 diabetes, we learned through desk research and interviews with nutritionists that "blood glucose" is a key numerical indicator. Our team then lived with a blood glucose monitor on our arms for 24 hours a day for two weeks and experienced days of living while keeping our blood glucose levels in mind.

Witnessing the "blood glucose spike" after eating and the sudden drop in blood glucose levels causing sleepiness after eating, we naturally began to pay more attention to the order of our meals. Based on this experience, we recognized that the ability to visually grasp the fluctuation of numerical values and feel the changes in one's body is a powerful factor that leads to behavioral changes.

Based on these results, the prototype incorporates a dashboard that allows users to see their own blood glucose and blood pressure levels, as well as a function that allows them to note down their diet, exercise, and behavioral habits  (e.g., stop snacking) on the same day and notice the correlation between them.


Don't be fooled by contradictions between words and actions


It is not unusual for a person's words to be inconsistent with his or her actions. Especially in interviews, there are cases in which a particular aspect is not mentioned because they are too obvious to them, or they say something different from what they actually are because they want to be thought of differently.

Researchers also have prejudices. When they see a neatly dressed person, they tend to imagine a neat home or environment.

Field research helps reduce the risk of concluding with prejudice by trying to understand the issue as objectively as possible. 

When we visited the home of a type 2 diabetic patient, we were shown their refrigerator which contained a large amount of melon soda. It was an important detail that was not mentioned during the online interview we conducted beforehand.


4. When should you choose field research?


While it can provide more concrete insights than interviews, it is also more costly. Here are some situations in which field research is likely to be the most effective:


Understanding a space 

When designing a soccer stadium, it is of course possible to interview users about the atmosphere of the game and the stadium's conductivity. Still, by visiting the stadium and seeing the site yourself, you can understand the facts with a clearer understanding. However, if you want to get an interpretation of what users think about the stadium, an interview is appropriate.


Wanting to know behavior that occurs in a space

When you want to know how people choose products in a supermarket, accompanying them during the actual shopping and engaging in repeated observation and dialogue can not only provide information that is closer to reality but also make it easier for the interviewee to respond.


When it is difficult to empathize with the user

When the researcher's own living environment, behavior patterns, and values are far removed from those of the user, it is quite possible that the researcher may not be able to empathize with the issues the user is facing just by listening to what the user has to say or looking at their environment.

This is when field research really becomes important. By gaining real, direct insight into other people's lives, it is possible to design services with empathy. As we introduced in the case study of diabetic patients, field research enables us to learn what kind of people they are, what kind of life they lead, and how they feel at any given moment, all while working together with them. I distinctly remember that I gradually developed a sense of empathy, even though I was full of questions at first.


Targeting users from different cultures 

When targeting a region or a person from a different culture than your own, it is essential to understand the cultural context. One obvious example is when a Japanese development team is creating a service for the Indian market, targeting a different country. After going through localized field research, designing a service while taking into account cultural aspects, such as living environment and values, can help build a service that is more easily adopted.


The amount of information is insufficient

If the information obtained from interviews is limited and no new insights are gained, it is worth conducting field research. While interviews are primarily based on verbal communication, field research can provide rich information through non-verbal communication, including visual information, and can also provide insight into lifestyles and environments that cannot be expressed in words. Field research is also useful as a means of gaining new insights into lifestyles and the environment.


Differentiating your product from similar products or needing inspiration

In an industrial society that has aimed for economic growth, people have so far sought products that fulfill their needs based on efficiency and rationality. However, many of these needs are already being met. From the consumer's point of view, the market is flooded with many similar products, and from the business's point of view, it is no longer easy to find a point to differentiate itself by meeting obvious needs.

Field research enables us to broaden our perspective and reconsider the framework of our services by obtaining a variety of insights not only at the moment a product is used, but also into the behavior before and after, the surrounding environment, and the emotional transitions of the user.

Take the example of Philips' Hue, a wireless smart lighting product that was a hit when it launched in 2012, which can be controlled from a smartphone to reproduce any color. The question that was probably asked in the planning stages of Hue was "How can we enrich our lifestyles with lighting?” These products were never created from the conventional standpoint of creating a brighter light bulb or creating a light bulb that lasts longer and reduces electricity bills. In this way, finding expectations that have not been found and embodying them as a value will help to create ideas that have never existed before.


What’s next 

In this blog, we have discussed the purpose and methods of qualitative research, as well as the importance of field research and the situations where it can be effectively utilized.

In the next blog in this series, we will focus on how field research was practiced and what results were achieved with another Moon venture. Stay tuned!

Moon Creative Lab_Yui_2.jpg

Yui Aiyama, Senior Designer

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