Skip to main content


Malinda Sanna

At least half the success we have had with LookLook®, our personal ethnography tool, is completely by accident. We designed it for additional access to people’s lives and for my selfish interest in traveling less.

Never had I envisioned that it would become a “virtual confessional”, and I’ve realized increasingly that it’s not the technology, it’s what we’re doing with it, person to person. We listen deep. People often thank us at the end of us a study, saying that they feel so much better. After all, when was the last time you felt someone was 100% dialed in to what you were saying?

When we started using this mobile chat tool, we played around with lining people up, on certain days, to create real-time interaction with moderators. But over time, we’ve found that Asynchronicity is infinitely more effective.

The old way of conducting qualitative research, the focus group, was on to something when it was championed by Ernest Dichter. An acolyte of Freud, Dichter fled Austria with the rise of Nazism and brought his ideas to America where one of his first projects was researching the motivations behind buying Ivory Soap. There was likely a lot of deep listening going on in these original small group discussions, where the idea was intense focus and reflection. A long way from the typically mind-numbing group discussions of today that happen in sterile strip mall facilities around the country. This research is too often poorly designed and led with little inspiration, amongst people who have the time available to join in group discussions with strangers, for hours.  In other words, maybe not the most leading-edge folks.

One of the biggest flaws, I’ve realized, of a research environment where the moderator has the advantage of designing the questions in advance, is that the person participating is expected to offer up their thoughts on the spot, without any time for reflection. It’s not fair to the participant. And, often they are more dialed into what others around them are saying than in providing a sense of reflection.

Asynchronicity, in the rhythm of how we use LookLook®, allows us to even the playing field with people. We give them time (days, sometimes a week) to interact with the topics and questions, which are meant to engage like content, not a survey. Then they bite them off and chew them as they wish, giving us unbelievable insights and observations. It’s not real time, but it’s so richer in quality, because it’s on their time.

What people offer up to us in this LookLook® intimate capsule of conversation, is “little data”, sort of the antidote to the overwhelm of “big data”. It’s granular detail, not only in what people say, but in the visuals they provide to us with pictures, conceptual screenshots, videos and screen recordings. We love these visual and verbal data streams and examine them with forensic attention.

Real time, as it turns out, is sometimes overrated, even in this world that emphasizes the immediate and convenience overall. Sometimes providing the space to pause and reflect is simple but powerful.

    Sign up to receive our “thoughts”!