Hijacking skateboarding

Leaving for LA I had one very specific problem to solve, how might I narrow down my research field to formulate a focused PhD question? Having mapped out vast areas of interest within skateboarding I had begun to feel an overwhelming sensation that it would be nigh on impossible to select just one area to concentrate on.  I formulated a series of interview questions under three headings:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Experience

With my completed ethics forms, two stills cameras, a digital video camera, sound equipment, two skateboards and eight interviews pre-arranged I set off from London with my partner and skateboard photographer Leo Sharp.

Over the course of six days I interviewed fourteen leading professionals including Mike Carroll, Girl, Geoff Rowley, Vans, Paul Shier, DVS shoes, Pierre-André Senizergues, Sole Technology and Eric Aaron Meza, film director and editor. Leo was on hand to look after technical sound and vision. It was important to the research that interviews were recorded for a number of reasons:

  • To capture the physical environment.
  • To capture the social environment between myself and the interviewee for analysis.
  • To be able to capture the exact comments, body language and observations of the participants.
  • To allow me to focus on the questions and revisit the answers after the event.

Something that my research experience taught me was how emotionally draining interviews can be. Some days I undertook three interviews and by the end of it I could not physically think. On analysing the interviews, a number of queries were recorded which required some further thought. First and foremost, the quality of data I recorder often depend on my ability to structure and guide the interviewee. While I feel I have the natural ability to conduct an interview and gather data buy the second to third interview I would often find myself loosing concentration and not focusing on the questions leading to spontaneous additional questions forming from the depths of my mind.

Setting out to achieve a record of industry placed knowledge, I had drawn on personal networks in order to conduct in-depth interviews. In some instances, I had been on tour with the individuals I was interviewing, sat in the back of mini buses for week long trips. Having prior knowledge of these individuals made me question the validity, trustworthiness and bias in the qualitative research. On further analysis I found that I had made assumptions based on my own experiences of skateboarding and in my own way at times had hijacked my own research.

Nethertheless, where I had kept to methodological questioning techniques, the responses gave insightful perspectives offering context relating to design and media practises. I was able to analyse my findings to determine which elements of each interview were consistent across the interviewees accounts and, thus, generate and edit more dependable outcomes.

On further study I realised that an essential part of the process would have been to keep field notes as a way to record behaviour, the activities undertaken each day, events, and other features I might of observed but forgotten about after the research visit.

The research visit was successful in a number of ways. Firstly, positive relationships had formed between the companies and myself. Recognising the importance of face to face interviews over email ones had highlighted how in-depth interviewees went when both parties were within a physical space. There was a great deal of interchangeable knowledge discussed during interviews which would most likely have been missed if the undertaken in written format.  The interviews could be flexible providing space for interviewees to expand upon or even at times go back to questions when they had had a little time to think.