Design Research and Hostage Negotiation: How Designing a Product can be Like Saving a Life

Session Title

Design Research and Hostage Negotiation: How Designing a Product can be Like Saving a Life


Bryan McClain, Metric Lab

Session Type: Presentation

This presentation is all about effective communication for research. Come see what lessons we’ve learned after five years performing pro bono research supporting police hostage negotiation teams. We’ve seen a lot of parallels between negotiation and design research and learned how designing a product can be like saving a life. Topics consist of communication strategies, rapport building, building alliances, using the team approach and effective training. This is the presentation to see if you want to learn how to sharpen your communication skills as a researcher, designer, or improve collaboration within a team.


Bryan co-founded Metric Lab, a consumer insight research consultancy with Demetrius Madrigal after doing research at NASA Ames Research Center for five years. While at NASA, Bryan worked on a variety of research studies, encompassing communication and human factors and interacting with hundreds of participants. As a part of his background in communication research, he received extensive training in communication methods, including certification-level training in police hostage negotiation. He has created negotiation training materials that are used by negotiation teams world-wide and was the inaugural California regional director of the International Association of Hostage Negotiators. Bryan uses his extensive training in advanced communication methods in UX research to help ensure maximum accuracy and detail in user feedback. Bryan enjoys innovating methods to integrate communication skills with user research while working with such companies as eBay, Kodak, Microsoft and BAE Systems.


  1. Posted September 15, 2009 at 11:59 am

    You had me at “police hostage negotiating teams.” What a great idea for a presentation.

  2. Adam Dole
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    We need more of this! Great communication is often the missing link in many businesses today. Whether it is communicating effectively with employees, your customer, or even external teams, businesses need to understand the dynamics that create communication that empowers… Many companies don’t know what this looks like.

  3. Amy
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Maybe it’s just that I respond well to analogies, but this topic really intrigues me.

  4. mark
    Posted September 30, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Totally fascinating!
    This sounds like a completely refreshing approach to issues we manage everyday.
    Count me in.

  5. Dan
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Interesting way of bringing the two topics together. I’m also guessing that a lot of design companies have had consultations that felt like a hostage negotiation at one point or another. lol

  6. Posted October 1, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Sounds like a fresh approach to a critical part of design—communication. I’d love to see this presentation.

  7. Kem
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Wow, this topic sounds fantastic! This is definitely not your run of the mill design presentation. I’m in.

  8. Jenny Williams
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 2:11 am

    This sounds like a great presentation. Effective communication is critical for unbiased research and informed design. Too often poor communication can derail a whole project. With so many of us working in multiple teams, these types of skills become just as important as our design skills and examining the parallels with other fields sounds like an enlightening exercise.