In analysing the results of user or market research, the focus is typically on behavioural or cognitive psychological perspectives. User research seeks to identify behaviours, habits, workflows, workarounds and decision-making for the development of product ideas, features and to iterate prototypes or products.
But user research could benefit from understanding how and why these behaviours happen by looking at social norms and cultural constructs, through the lens of social constructionism.
What is Social Constructionism?
Once I understood social constructionism, it totally made me see the world in a completely new way.
The Technical Answer
Social constructionism is ‘taking a critical stance towards knowledge; seeing knowledge as history-, culture- and domain-specific; viewing knowledge as created and sustained by social processes; and recognising that knowledge implicates action’ (Stainton Rogers and Stainton Rogers, 2001, p.161).
Berger and Luckmann (1966) view ‘Society as a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product’ (p.79). People’s ‘realities are social constructions of the mind, and… there exist as many such constructions as there are individuals, although clearly many constructions will be shared’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1989, p.43).
The construction of meaning is in the minds of the individuals themselves, which are being constantly revised.
The Simple Answer
We learn behaviours from our family, school, social surroundings and media, behaviours and decisions don’t take place in a vacuum. Our immediate and wider environment shapes our thoughts and actions.
Understanding social norms and cultural constructs are important when analysing user behaviours.
Using social constructionism in analysis means we can zoom out to see the environmental influences on behaviour and zoom out a bit more to see wider social and cultural influences on behaviour.
Social Constructionism in User Research
When we analyse findings at Snap Out, we look at individual behaviour, environment and interactions but we also zoom out to look at the wider picture.
We ask why people are behaving in that way, in that particular environment and why are they making decisions to use a product in a certain way. Having a socio-cultural view on findings means we can delve deeper into the ‘why’ people behave in the way that they do, to deepen empathy and understanding of users.
The Snap Out Team ?
Stainton Rogers, W. & Stainton Rogers, R. ( 2001) The Psychology of Gender and Sexuality, Buckingham: Open University Press
Berger, P.L. & Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, London: Penguin
Guba, E.G. & Lincoln, Y.S (1989) fourth Generation Evaluation, Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications