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San Francisco


Portfolio of Allison V. Leach, a San Francisco User Experience Researcher and Strategist

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HT Field Studies

Hightail Ethnographic Study: Photographer

Despite its popularity among creative professionals, Hightail had a limited understanding of the context of its products in people's everyday lives. 

Hightail especially wanted to learn more about the role of its applications in professionals' workflows. What prompted individuals to use Hightail? Why did they prefer one platform over another? What other file sharing tools, if any, were professionals using alongside Hightail?

To investigate these questions, I conducted a series of ethnographic studies with tenured Hightail customers. Our first subject was Thomas H., a local photographer. 

I visited Thomas at his studio in downtown San Francisco, bringing along two Hightail designers to observe, take pictures, and ask supporting questions. Before the interview, I prepared a detailed discussion guide (below) with questions about Thomas's everyday ecosystem of work-related digital and non-digital tools, pain/delight points, attitudes, and workarounds. 

After the interview, my team and I debriefed to organize our learnings into color-coded categories of Post-Its (pictured) to surface recurring themes and illuminating quotes.

We were surprised to learn Thomas trusted local storage more than cloud storage. As a photographer with many clients and media contacts, Thomas also engaged in a broader scope of file exchanging behaviors than we would have anticipated (from email, snail mail, CDs, SD cards, hard drives, to various cloud services). Notably, sharing photographs using Hightail was only a brief step in Thomas's larger landscape of work tasks and services.

Our biggest takeaway was Thomas's frustration with his inability to streamline his workflow. Although he suspected there must be an easier way to send and store files, he believed he simply didn't have the time, resources, or money to invest in a better solution. "My lack of knowledge in tech is a joking matter," he confessed. "I haven't kept up."


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