Who my audience is

It took a day or two (and a bag of homemade dumplings from my mom), but I’ve finally recovered from the massive work-fest that was last week. And I’m ready to tackle the mountain of thesis deliverables I’ve been putting off.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to blog about is target audience. I tackled this topic briefly back in October, if only to say that I wouldn’t be defining it so early on for fear of limiting myself. Then I did the thesis fictions with Vera and Fred, which gave me a quite specific idea of two individuals that Hotpot could work for.

But I still haven’t defined my audience with the kind of specifity that designers are expected to start a project off with. (And I think that, in many ways, this speaks more to the unusual conditions of a thesis project than anything else.) Well, with the defense a mere 3 weeks away, I think I must now. :) But more importantly, I think I can.

As of last week, Hotpot is real to the outside world—it now exists as a live prototype that others can see and experience. And getting all the way to this point meant sticking strongly to certain beliefs:

  1. Cooking must be reframed as a social event, not a chore
  2. We can do that by giving friends the tools to cook together remotely, so they can ultilize social pressure to encourage one another to cook
  3. Remotely is key, because it bypasses the many physical/logistical barriers of cooking together IRL (the cooking activity comes to you, not vice versa)

In sticking to these beliefs, I had inadvertently formulated a hypothesis about who might use Hotpot. (The traditional alternative to this approach would be to define an audience at the beginning and then to court it with singleminded focus.) So the next step was to test out the hypothesis. As I showed the prototype to various people and got their reactions, I began to get a clearer understanding of who would use this and why. Turns out, my hypothesis led to these groups of people:

  1. The Reluctant Cook + The Evangelist
    Hotpot is a great way to get non-cooks over that reluctance by involving a friend who actually is an enthusiastic cook. I realized early on that this was essentially me + Clint from prototype #3, but having spoken to a few others (particularly mothers who want their sons to stop living like they’re in college), it looks like others share this sentiment too.
  2. The Lonely Cook
    Cooking and then eating by yourself is a lonely affair, a loneliness which many people attempt to fill with television (as David my thesis advisor astutely points out). Cooking also takes low priority when you’re only cooking for yourself, because there’s no one to appreciate your efforts with you afterwards. Of the people I’ve spoken to, those that seemed to express a great deal enthusasm for Hotpot are people that actually enjoy cooking, but either live alone or have roomates who are never home. For them, Hotpot is an opportunity to reconnect with people around something that feels inherently social.

Knowing this, I can move forward with refining the messaging/presentation specifically for these groups of people, or even try to whittle it down to one. This, for me, seems to be the right time to define a thesis audience: when you have something that you’ve created, and you have to present it in the correct light so people understand what value it has. Just in time for thinking about Thesis Presentations!