Ghost Hunters is a SyFy Network reality series that follows the supernatural investigations of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS). The TAPS team, led by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, investigates reports of paranormal activities at various locations around the country. Their everyman background—they’re Roto-Rooter plumbers by day—sense of humor, and skeptical, no-nonsense attitude set them apart from the psychics, mediums, New Age channelers, and the other kooks who typically associate themselves with overly sensationalized shows about the supernatural.
What Can We Learn from Ghost Hunters?
How could user research have anything in common with ghost hunting? Well to start with, in both professions, clients experience a problem and contact professionals who study the behavior of humans—living versus dead. These professionals investigate to determine what’s going on and how to solve a problem. They record evidence, present their findings to a client, and recommend solutions.
In examining these similarities, there are some things we could learn from ghost hunting. Let’s take a closer look at Ghost Hunters and lessons we can apply to user research.
Do Your Homework
The members of the TAPS team familiarize themselves with a location and their client before starting a project. A case manager gathers basic information from the client about the problems people have experienced and does some research into the location. For example, if a client reports the spirit of a child, the team researches the previous occupants of the house to determine whether there were any children who died at the location.
Likewise, it’s helpful to do some background research before starting a user research project. Before even meeting with a new client, you should become familiar with their business and the project you’ll be working on. Do additional research throughout the project as necessary, to learn more about the issues you find and familiarize yourself with the findings from similar research.
Do a Walkthrough to Understand the Problems
Before the TAPS team starts their investigation, the client walks them through the property, showing them where people have reported supernatural activity and describing what they’ve experienced. They also interview witnesses who have experienced the phenomenon. This gives them a sense of the reported problems and where to focus their investigation.
For user research, it’s important to first get an overview of the problem areas from your client. Have them walk you through a user interface, pointing out the problems they have experienced themselves or that others have reported. Interview other stakeholders in the company to get their perspective on the problems they’ve experienced, as well as problems other people have reported. Understanding your clients’ needs helps you to understand where to focus your research.
Focus on the Hot Spots
Based on what the TAPS team learns during a walkthrough, the team focuses their research on a location’s hot spots—that is, the areas where people have reported the most supernatural activity. Because they have only a short time to investigate—usually one night—and their recording devices can cover only a limited area, they focus on these hot spots.
In user research, we often face similar limitations in terms of time, budget, the number of participants, the length of each session, and the time we have to analyze the data. Since we can’t cover everything, we need to focus on the user experience hot spots, which we can identify from our background research and discussions with clients.
Be Creative in Dealing with Troublesome Entities
Both ghost hunters and user researchers occasionally experience people—
whether living or dead—who are reluctant to communicate. Granted, ghost hunters have a much more difficult task in communicating with the dead, but as researchers, we occasionally come across people among the living who seem to have as much trouble communicating as ghosts do. The TAPS team tries all kinds of creative techniques to get a ghost to communicate—whether by voice, knocks, moving an object, or lighting up a flashlight—or even by provoking anger in an entity through insults and mockery. If they continue to get no response, they move on to another location.
Obviously, when doing user research, we wouldn’t try out these same techniques on an uncommunicative, living participant, but it can be worthwhile to try some creative and unconventional approaches to open up a reluctant communicator. Of course, some people are just not that communicative, no matter what you do. In that case, it’s best to focus on their observable behavior and not waste more time trying to get them to talk with you.