During the World Cup, a few Cooper teams found themselves in Europe. The Europeans take this event pretty seriously, and many of us were swept up in the fever of our host country. In addition to being a blast, World Cup fandom reminded me of what I enjoy about design research -- making those emotional connections that allow us to achieve a deeper understanding of what motivates people.
It all started when my teammate, Noah, and I were checking into a Zurich hotel. On a nearby TV, we saw that the Swiss national team began their World Cup match against Spain. We knew enough about the World Cup to know that the Spanish were favorites to win it all, having enough talent on their bench to compete with the starting teams of other nations. We walked across the lobby and joined the Swiss supporters in the hotel lounge.
Standing next to me were a small group of Swiss wearing national team jerseys. As the match began, their eagerness seemed foolish amongst a sea of conservative business suits -- not surprisingly, the suits weren't eager to join in their chants of "Hop Schweiz!" But as the game developed, the crowd began to gain a little confidence, and the sense of community engagement grew steadily. For Noah and I, it was hard not to get caught up in all that hopeful emotion. At halftime, I realized that I genuinely wanted Switzerland to win. Even though I appreciated the beauty of the Spanish game, I wanted to share the experience of a Swiss win against Spain. I was, temporarily, but most assuredly, a fan of the Swiss football team.
To everyone's surprise, the Swiss scored a goal in the 52nd minute and then gamely hung on to win the match. Hysteria in the lobby! The conservative suits chanted with the jersey clad supporters. Car horns honked. It felt as if the whole city had come alive and for that moment were able to share in what seemed like a truly cultural and communal experience.
Noah and I later became English fans in London, and German fans in Frankfurt.
Both those cities also came alive with the communal energy of expectation and hope. Even though neither England or Germany won their matches, the excitement was just as irresistible as it was in Zurich when the Swiss side beat Spain. Dave also discovered that it was hard to resist getting swept up by the locals. (Unfortunately for the French, it was all downhill from there, as far as their World Cup prospects were concerned).
It may sound like a stretch, but we all found that fandom requires skills that aren't totally dissimilar to design research. To be a good fan, you've got to have an empathetic disposition, and that the process of becoming a fan is remarkably similar to the process we engage for every user research project: Observation, participation, curiosity and empathy are essential tools for making sense of a complex user system -- or the complex universe of football.