Do you want to transform your research experiences into immersive, engaging journeys?
On this week's episode we are joined by Karlien Kriegler, the co-founder and research director of Hello Ara. She merges human understanding with cutting-edge immersive technology to optimize market research outcomes. In this episode, we will have the opportunity to explore the hidden possibilities of immersive technology in research, examine the role of avatars in enhancing cooperation and addressing sensitive issues, appreciate the value of reducing friction for participants in immersive environments, and acknowledge the emerging need for more inventive and experimental techniques in research.
You can reach out to Karlien on LinkedIn.
Visit the Hello Ara website to check out more!
Many thanks to Karlien for being our guest. Thanks also to our producer, Natalie Pusch; and our editor, James Carlisle.
Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us today and welcome to another edition of the GreenBook Podcast. I am Karen Lynch, and I’m happy to be hosting this episode and digging into some fascinating research in particular with a human being who’s the perfect person to bring this to you. I’m talking today with Karlien Kriegler. She is one of the co-founders and the research director at Hello Ara.Karlien:
Thank you. It is so lovely to speak to you today.Karen:
Tell us a little bit—just for the purpose of introduction—you know, I can say that you, you know, have been combining human understanding and AI to make some positive change in the industry and, you know, some of your research expertise, but why don’t you introduce yourself more authentically to our audience and then we’ll get into what brought you to Hello Ara?Karlien:
Okay. My background is, I have had my whole career in market research. I’m not one of those people who fell into it. I discovered it as a study subject and I immediately loved it. And I have a purposeful career by design [laugh] in the market research industry.Karen:
I love that point. Yeah, I had a similar journey in that, you know, I graduated, within the first year outside of college, I was working for a qualitative research company as an assistant field director. And so, I learned how to write screeners and how to interact with the focus for facilities that we were using, and really starting at that very kind of administrative level, I think, to this day, set me up for success because I started on the lowest rung of that ladder in the field and just kept going up, up, up, and each time it just brought me a new awareness of really, what are we doing? We’re talking to human beings and everything we do matters. So, tell me what connected you to David Wright then, who is your co-founder at Hello Ara? He’s the one I had first reached out to start to have these conversations and then, thus invite your team to present at IIEX Europe. So, how did you and David meet, connect, and come up with the idea for this organization?Karlien:
So, I think I am, by nature, a curious person as I think a lot of us researchers are, and I’ve always been curious about whatever is new, you know? And also in research, from the start, I’ve had that mindset of, well, how can I explore new ways of doing this or that or—you know? So, I think that’s part of my nature and how I was brought up. And so, in my career, I’ve also always looked for who are the people who are doing new things who are thinking differently so that I can learn from that. So, I met David in London when I was on a business trip there and we got along and I really liked how he thinks.Karen:
It’s sure [laugh]—really, it feels like an understatement right now with what AI is doing for us. So obviously, you know, AI, in general, is exploding, but when I think conceptually about the metaverse—and I want to set the stage for our listeners right now, some people who might still be thinking of the metaverse as you know, you need your Oculus or your meta headset to go into a virtual reality, but the metaverse is different than that. And I think for me, some of my aha moments were around watching my children, who are, you know, they’re Gen Z and they grew up playing Fortnite; my sons in particular played Fortnite. And I remember one time they told me they were, you know, getting in to watch a concert in Fortnite. And I’m like, “Wait, what are you doing? I thought it was a gaming platform.” Like, “It is, Mom.”Karlien:
Okay. I mean, I think Facebook when they rebranded Meta, I think everyone’s perception suddenly changed of what’s the metaverse and then everyone thought metaverse equals Meta, which isn’t actually the case. Meta’s metaverse is actually quite small if you compare it to Roblox and Fortnite and Minecraft, which is massive. For Meta, you need that Oculus headset. Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft, I think it’s only recently that all of them released versions that are available on VR headsets.Karen:
Yeah, and I think it’s worth pointing out real quick that you are really a global organization, right? Share with us just for context where your team is located. I think it’s poignant [laugh].Karlien:
Okay. I’m located in Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve always lived here. I love it here. I love traveling, but it’s wonderful here. David, my co-founder, is he was in London when we started the business, but he’s now in New Zealand. And most of our team actually live here in South Africa. It’s great for timezone, but our clients all over the world. And our metaverse experiments actually started here in South Africa.Karen:
So, let’s talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing there. And I want to include the caveat of what’s possible because I think that some people, there may be two categories of is it something that we should even be thinking about? Is that a space we should consider doing research in? So, I want to talk about that, but also then what’s possible right now—today 2023—and how to get started. So, tell us some of the work that you’re doing there and then we’ll get into the study that you shared and kind of some results of the work you’re doing.Karlien:
Okay. Can I share a little bit of the journey we’ve taken to get here—Karen:
Yeah. And thinking back to that one, you know, the client that you were working with, what was the appeal? What was the intrigue? Why did they want to do this?Karlien:
So, I mean, I think the client themselves were on the journey was the metaverse and thinking through what it is that they can do from a metaverse point of view, so they’re also always open for what is new and using the newest technology. And so, I think when they entered the space and they realized what it felt like, you know, the fact that you could move, the fact that you could interact with elements, the fact that it was very easy to customize, I think you can be incredibly creative in a metaverse space, you can make it look like X or Y, you can bring in any sort of materials and sounds and screens, you can bring in 3D elements. I think there’s also some research that’s been done on the effect of being in an immersive environment and how it gives you a sense of sort of spatial freedom. And I think actually, I’d encourage people to try it out for themselves. I mean, for me, initially, I was also a little bit skeptical before I went into the metaverse.Karen:
Yeah, that’s excellent. And I want to touch on one other thing. You know, you talked about kind of this spatial freedom but briefly touching on the personal freedom that an individual might have creating their avatar and being that part of themselves. Talk to me about how that plays out or what you noticed in your work about what that does for somebody, that choosing how they show up in the immersive environment.Karlien:
I mean, I think that is really an interesting thing and we’d love to do much more research on research on that topic because I’m fascinated by that. So, within the platform that we use, you have the ability to customize your avatar in any way—well, in many ways—and from the color of your skin to your hair to your makeup to your clothes. And brands are also partnering with the platform that we’re using to bring out new versions, et cetera. So, that element can be used in research, purposefully or not, you know? You can tell people just to make whatever avatar they want, or you could tell them, we sometimes tell people, “Show us the avatar that depicts your mood of the day.”Karen:
[laugh]. Well, obviously I’m fascinated, too, and with my qualitative research lens on, I’m thinking about all of the projective exercises we do to get people to share things like that and how it can happen very freely in that environment, you know. I love the idea of show your mood by changing your avatar or show how you feel about, you know, at any point doing that kind of a projective intervention to the—you know, using it, I just think it could be really deliberately used as part of the research experience and also creating the engagement with the individuals. So, I’m incredibly fascinated, too. But we’ll kind of go back to the environment because one of the things I really wanted to dig into with you is how some of the results of the study that you did that talked about the two different research environments, and how that was impactful on the results.Karlien:
Okay. No, for sure. So, we have a retail client that wanted to do a bit of research on sustainability. Most of the questions were quite broad. They were trying to understand where were people in their journey with sustainability.Karen:
Please. Yeah, I mean—Karlien:
I think just to add to the point, I think humans are very visual beings, and as researchers, we have somehow forgotten that, you know? We think it’s okay to have a survey that’s all big wide screen with black, lots of boxes, tick, tick, tick. As long as it’s fast, it’s okay. When actually, you know, when, in our lives online, nothing looks like black and white with big wide screen and tick, tick, tick, right? Anyway—Karen:
Yeah. And I mean, I think they were probably at some point—my thinking is—this is to—the perception was let’s eliminate bias by having a very sterile environment. But I would beg the question of, does that introduce a different bias in 2023 compared to how people might perceive that versus how they might perceive a different environment? So again, thought exercises, but please, Karlien [laugh], go ahead—Karlien:
Okay, we used our human brains and qualitative analysis, but of course, we had to use generative AI as well to compare what would ChatGPT do with this transcript, right? So, we did that and we use our human brains. So, we first looked at the mood. And clearly the [lush 00:22:12], Bounteous environment had a different effect on the mood and the Arid one. In the Bounteous environment, people were quite upbeat and they enjoyed the experience of being in a green space.j[ they wanted to walk around and explore at the start, you know? It was easy to settle them, they felt really comfortable. So, the mood in the place was quite positive. Even though we had a challenging topic, people were optimistic and positive.Karen:
It’s so interesting. The same thing happened in Amsterdam for me personally, is, as I’m hearing you think I just think it’s fascinating to think about how the same study can be impacted so much by the environment created. And it really is all about the outcome, right? And seeing which of those environments would be more conducive to meeting the objectives, meeting the research objectives? What’s the goal of the project and worrying a little less about bias and more about, well, if we want our participants to help us find solutions, rather than just talk about the emotionality and the pain of the topic, right? There’s different types of research and research objectives, and building the environment that helps bring you to your end goal is what we do as researchers. So it’s—Karlien:
Absolutely. Because I mean that in that Arid environment, what you learn is, like, the things that stress people out. I mean, you can, from a behavior change point of view, you’re learning about the things you’re trying to avoid, you know? Those things came to the fore. And in the green environment, you learning about, well, if you push them, this is where they could go. So, I think findings of both sides are actually valuable and actionable. In particular, you think if you think about how you’re going to change behaviors.Karen:
Yeah, that’s great. So, what do you think—kind of projecting out—potential applications for these environments, you know, in addressing either, kind of, issues as great and complex as sustainability or other topics as well? What do you see the applications to be?Karlien:
I mean, I think in terms of metaverse research in general, it feels like it’s a great way to deeply immerse people in visuals, ideas, and concepts. You get them to really focus. And a lot of the big consultancies, they’ve moved their onboarding training into the metaverse and they’ve actually cut down on training time because they find that people tend to focus really well in immersive settings, much better than if they were on a Zoom call staring at a stranger. And, you know, I’m very curious about the impact on introverts as well, if you recruited introverts and [laugh] [unintelligible 00:27:28] Zoom calls with them versus metaverse research, I’d be fascinated to know how much more you could get out of introverts and the introverts. Anyway, I don’t want to sidetracked.Karen:
I love that idea. And I just again, started to go into my experience as a researcher and some of the challenges around shopping and simulating, you know, the aisles of a grocery store or how people choose items off the shelf. And I’m sitting here thinking, of course creating a virtual store where avatars can go in and shop and pick things off the shelf, and then talking about that, I’m like, that would be really neat to do. So, to me, I just see a lot of applications for this and I’m fascinated by it. So, I’m so glad you’re kind of you know, indulging me with even this conversation.Karlien:
I mean, I think the first thing is [unintelligible 00:29:57]. And you won’t have the problem in the US probably between you work in a market like South Africa, for example, you need to watch that people’s connections and the laptop speeds are fast enough because, obviously, it’s high use of data, it needs to be clear in order to have a great experience. But we figured that out for markets that are not like US or Europe; we know how we need to recruit in order to overcome that.Karen:
And I think, you know, also to that point, sort of like what I was saying about even just a sort of survey-taking environment of what’s on screen, but I think about in-person environments for research. And back when I was executing research, if we wanted to have a more creative outcome, if we wanted to have participants co-creating or giving ideas for a brand to move forward, we would often set up an environment that was more creative. And then otherwise, we would default to just a general conference table with people sitting around and some of the big thinking was, should we set the room up living room style? Or should we set the room up with the traditional conference table? And it just seems like such a small part of the equation when you realize we’re talking about setting up an entire world versus just a table or a couch.Karlien:
Definitely that. I mean, I recently found some notes on my phone which I made when I was dreaming about doing research that's innovative all the time. And one of the things I wrote was, “I want research to be more visual,” because we tend to work with—you know, my first introduction with research was very much quantitative, you know, hard quantitative. And over the first ten years of my career, everything moved from longer to shorter and tighter and less detail and less and whatever else, which made me feel like it makes sense to make it shorter, but [like 00:33:32] we’re losing color. So, in my head—maybe this sounds fluffy—but one of my goals is to bring color back into research, right?Karen:
Yeah, it’s really interesting. And again, I can’t help but think about so many things, but for me as a highly kinesthetic, tactile learner, always fidgeting, always looking to pick something up, and I think about the fact that this type of qual, I’m engaging my hands, and I’m at least experiencing in a virtual way, that sort of movement, it’d be really neat to see how one person might participate in a typical qual setting and another person might participate in an immersive one, like you’re describing. So, it’s so cool. So, what’s on the horizon for you, for Hello Ara, what’s next? Kind of give us a glimpse of what you’re most excited for.Karlien:
I mean, I think you start a business because you want to grow it, right? So, the obvious answer [laugh] is, we are excited about growing our business through using new technology in interesting but definitely valuable ways for great clients. And we’re lucky we have fantastic clients. I think, with so many generative tools, just releasing one after the other, and every time, you know, it—it feels like every month then there’s a new feature or, “This is easier,” or, “That is easier.” I think, so it’s definitely a year of experimentation and keeping our brains on its toes while we focus on delivering really well to make our clients happy because that’s what we love to do.Karen:
In our company at GreenBook, we spend a lot of time talking about the future of insights. That’s kind of our mission is to help shepherd people in the industry into the future of insights. And there are moments presently where we’re thinking we are living the future now, right—generative AI hit and our use of virtual reality and augmented reality has happened, so we’re kind of in it. What do you think then is next? What does the future of insights look like to you? What kind of conversations have you had or musings have you had about what’s down the pike for all of us, thinking forward?Karlien:
Yeah, I mean, I think that, from my experience, it feels like in market research, sometimes it goes through phases where we’re pinning our future on a thing. So, you know, at one point, we were pinning our feature on mobile research, and then it felt like, we were pinning our feature on everything online and online qual. When I think that time has passed and I think our jobs are to explore, to keep adding things that are great and keep what is new, but it feels to us—David and I had discussion—that a lot of the research that happened ten years ago of research on research on digital and mobile isn’t necessarily valid anymore, that there’s almost time for—like you were saying—you know, we created the specific ways of doing research to remove biases and to shape it in a reliable way of doing things differently. But I think there’s a new time now and I think we have to tap into things like creativity and co-creation. And we all have to use the generative AI tools. We can’t rely on the tech team or the ops team.Karen:
I have that same curiosity that you have, too, so every time you say research on research, I get really excited because I’m like, “Yes, let’s do that.” [laugh]. Anyway.Karlien:
Let’s do something.Karen:
[laugh]. I know. It’s so fun. Really, it’s so fun. So, let me ask you this. What do you wish that I had asked you that I didn’t get to in our brief time together today?Karlien:
Ooh, I’m not exactly sure. I mean, I think what I didn’t speak about was we spoke a lot about the metaverse, but also really a firm beliving in allowing people to respond in a way that they want to. So, I think the time of the closed-ended survey, and I’m happy to see on—you know, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn—and maybe to see more people are using—even in traditional service—using some open questions again, trying to look through that for analysis. When we started Hello Ara, our focus was conversational AI first, so I guess apart from having visual experiences, even traditional surveys, I think, needs to change, you know? They are sometimes actually a lot of biases in providing lists with answer options that are not necessarily valid.Karen:
Yeah, I just, I love everything you’re saying and I am with you a hundred percent. It’s time for a rethink of so many things to see what we can either redesign or revamp or just at the very least, revisit to see what the possibilities are and how we might do things differently. So, I love that. Thank you so much. So, we’re really at about time, so we need to wrap up. But tell us real quick, tell our listeners, how could they find you if they’d like to connect and talk to you more?Karlien:
Oh, I’m very active on LinkedIn, so they’re welcome to follow me. Or, you know, Ara’s website. We were busy was a revamp, you know, that’s big process. But there’s a contact box on there. Or you can just email me. Yeah, but I’m quite active on LinkedIn, so you could find me there and connect. I love to make new friends on LinkedIn as well.