“Those Febreze people”: Explaining User Research

Post by Deirdre Costello in User Research

Yesterday afternoon I spoke to a group of middle schoolers about what user research is. My initial plan was to give them a sneak peek into what research looks like in high school and send them along with some tips about how to use Google (secretly), how to pick a topic (specific + interesting), and when to talk to their librarian (always). As it turned out, I had severely underestimated how much they wanted talk about salary. I was also unprepared for the reference points they used to understand my work.

I started with my middle school-level one-sentence spiel: “I go out and talk to people who use, or who might someday use, our products so we can make those products better for them.” Right away, a boy in a bright orange Young Money tshirt raised his hand. His question: “So what do you do?”*

It’s a great question. I get it at every wedding, every pool party and barbeque, and my answer is usually met with slow nods indicating that the other person doesn’t fully understand, but they’re ready to move the conversation along. My family has given up trying, partially because my uncle works on recommendation engines and there’s no explaining that so they just seat us next to each other and don’t worry about it. I had hoped to avoid it yesterday by quickly skipping over my job description and moving directly to a Google search for “Bermuda triangle,” but this kid was not going to let that happen.

So I stumbled, but luckily the girl next to him turned and said, “She just explained that! She’s like the people in that commercial who go to peoples’ houses and ask them if they like Febreze.”* “Yes!” I said. “That’s exactly right!” Everyone nodded their heads in recognition.

While that reference point gave them a general sense of what I do, there was a little confusion – I don’t usually surprise people at their houses or use EBSCO products on their furniture. But you can bet I’m going to bring it up at the next family gathering.

*For reference, one of the commercials I think she was talking about is here:


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