Monday, October 13, 2008

Research Methods: Confabulating Useful, Usable and Desirable

Confabulation is a term that describes the space between one's imagined truth and the actual facts. In describing behavior or attitudes, people abhor a vacuum.  So when we don't remember what we did--or why--we'll create a narrative to fill the void. Mostly, we do this unconsciously or with very little recognition of what we are doing. That's confabulation. 

Put another way, confabulation is the difference between our peronsal truths and the actual facts. 

Confabulation presents a particular challenge to marketing researchers in that research subject's explanations of behavior may not be what they seem. Attitudinal research is no better able to address the issue given it's general requirement to ask the person with the attitude just what 'it' is and where they got 'it'...and of course, researchers being human, they may create their own confabulations for defining and explaining attitudes in others.

Without digressing into a philosphical discussion of the limits of our perceptual abilities, Jakob Neilsen has posted a matrix of research methods and when to use them. Though crafted in the context of usability research, they are applicable in any marketing context from product design, to customer service, to the ever mysterious practice of 'branding'. 

In the end, these methods provide a breadth of support for the discovery and creation of experiences that are useful, usable and desirable...even with the attendant uncertainty of confabulated results.

(click to enlarge)

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