Field Research for Blood Donation App

My field research comes from the Starbucks at 10th and Chestnut in Philadelphia, right across the street from the Jefferson University Hospital. I positioned myself in a chair between the front door and the counter so I could observe everyone as the walked into the store. The space was very media-friendly, with its free Wifi, CDs for sale, and cards for complimentary songs and apps each week, not to mention the Starbucks app that the company sponsors. I was also surprised to see more traditional media in the form of a brochure advertising the new line of baked goods that the franchise is selling. The research took place on a Sunday afternoon, so there was not as much foot-traffic around the university area as there may have been on a weekday. For the most part, people did not seem to be in too much of a hurry.

Most of the people that came into the Starbucks were Caucasians between estimated ages of 20 and 45. On average, patrons were middle-to-upper class, as assumed by the style and brand of their clothing, including coats, scarves, and sunglasses. Most people that I saw came in by themselves, but there were a few small groups. There were many student-aged people that came in quickly for a cup of coffee, and few sat down to do some studying. Throughout my two hours of observation, I only noticed two children who would have been under the age of 12.

During my two-hour session of field research, I observed approximately 85 people. Of those, approximately 29% used some type of mobile phone. Of the people that used a mobile phone, about 54% were using it in a visual context (i.e. for texting and/or using apps), 17% were talking on the device, and 29% had headphones in and were likely listening to music.

In terms of other forms of media, I noticed only one person with a traditional print newspaper, three people with digital camera, and two people that held some form of a notebook. (Perhaps they were studying me as I studied them?) I was surprised to see only two patrons pay for their order with the Starbucks app. I had never downloaded it myself, but I assumed that it would be more popular, especially in a location on a college campus, where student are more likely to be tech-savvy.

There were a few trends that I noticed about the ways that people were interacting with each other and their mobile devices while I watched them. While exact numbers were not easy to define because I was trying to keep track of people, I noticed that it was far more likely for that a visual user would be a male, and that a person using the phone to audibly speak to another person would be a female.

I also noticed that if someone were to come into the store with at least one other person, he or she was far less likely to reach for his or her mobile device. They were more engaged in the conversation they were physically having with the other person. If there was not a line at the counter, people would hardly ever use a phone, because there simply was not enough time between their order and the delivery. However, once a line began to form, even of only two to three customers, the phones came out.

On the whole, the level of phone usage was lower than I would have personally expected. Most people were clear in their intentions of coming in to purchase their drink and then leave without any dilly-dallying. I expected more people to have sat down for a minute, but that probably comes from my personal philosophy of justifying the cost of Starbucks coffee by saying that I am paying for the atmosphere, so I sit and get the most for my money. This also adds to the research because the people I observed had the means to pay for relatively expensive coffee without much hesitation.

My original plan was to have sat outside, but the weather was a little too chilly for that. I wonder what statistics I would have gotten if I had sat on the other side of the front door. I would imagine that many people put their devices away just before entering the Starbucks so that their hands would be free.

I do think that my field research was worth the effort, as I was able to discover some information connected to my app concept. I plan on designing an app to facilitate blood donation by supplying drive locations, dates, and times, as well as a sample questionnaire to conclude whether a person is eligible to donate. I made the choice to observe people around a university hospital because it is likely that most of the people I came into contact with were students, health professionals, or families of patients, all of which are statistically likely to be willing to donate blood.

My research has informed the concept of my app in several ways. First of all, mobile phone usage was lower than I originally anticipated, and the number of people using the app for the store they had chosen to buy from was minimal. I concluded that it would be harder to find an audience for any app than I may have thought.

Advertising the existence of the app, which I would try to make available for free, might be the toughest challenge. Places like Starbucks do advertise apps, and the hospital environment would also be ideal for an app of this type, but people are usually focused on what they are doing in the moment. A creative campaign would be necessary. If I were to go forward with the idea for this app, I would try to partner with local blood banks and donation centers to advertise it. Together, we could spread the information those establishments want to advertise anyway.

Luckily, I did notice that people seemed relaxed and not in any hurry on the Sunday afternoon, and the people who were using their phones were more likely to be alone. Therefore, if my location and others like it could coordinate weekend drives, it is likely that users of my proposed app would not have to worry about the plans of their companions. The people with companions at that moment would probably not be using my app in the first place. I would be counting on people who were alone to make the spontaneous choice to donate, based on convenience.


One thought on “Field Research for Blood Donation App”

  1. A blood donation app is a good idea, and can easily be connected to social justice. I encourage you to explore the politics of blood donation a bit more, however. In particular, various groups are banned from donating blood and many people might be unaware of the eligibility requirements. There are, moreover, a large number of requirements that can be difficult for the average person to navigate. Here are a few references that can lead you to more research on the topic (one, two) and I can connect you with the author who can direct you to more sources. You might also consider whether the app can help organize people who want to push back against those regulations (particularly those that ban men who have sex with men since 1977, or anyone who has had sex with a man who has sex with men within the past year). Such protests, and those against the bans on Haitians donating blood, have a long history that would be worth looking into. Moreover the documentary “Bad Blood” has it problems but provides some useful background on blood donation in the U.S.

    You are right to note that finding an audience for the app will be difficult. How can it be effective if no one is looking at their phones, or downloading the app? Perhaps one way to reframe the plan is, given an audience that is less than attentive, can you design and app to help blood donation centers better market themselves? That is, rather than view the user as the average Starbucks customer, perhaps you could view blood drive organizers as your customer. More than likely, you could appeal to both audiences with an app that connects to other social media sites, provides information about blood donation (including an “am i eligible” section), and helps inform organizers about getting the word out. Research on health communication and public services campaigns will help frame much of this discussion.

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