March 15, 2008

Research in the Wild

by Gavin Lew 

Gavin Lew, Managing Director, User Centric

Remote Experience Sampling via Mobile Technology

As practitioners we spend a great deal of effort designing and testing products and services within the confines of our offices when we know that a rich user experience lies outside. What is needed is more research in "the wild" where people use the very interfaces we take so much time to design, test, iterate, and develop. While ethnographers may nod in agreement, the results of their observational and qualitative techniques often fall short on producing actionable near-term recommendations. Lab-based research, on the other hand, is better suited to obtain more definitive design answers because it can specifically target product features. However, it lacks the external validity and thus is less likely to reveal the richness the user experience associated with a product or service.

What our field needs are more naturalistic techniques and tools that can reliably provide the pragmatic and efficient outputs associated with more traditional research. In short, we need to be able to better access, observe, and capture experiences when our products are actually in the hands of our users.

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Usability Tip

by Wendy Yee

"Photo Flash Cards" for Field Interviews

When we conduct fieldwork observations, our goal is to observe users in their "native" surroundings. We want to see what tools or devices they are using, how they are using them, and most importantly, what types of daily or work-related activities are associated with these tools.

We want to avoid interrupting the user mid-thought or mid-activity. This means that we usually save our questions for the post-observation interviews --  when the user is generally considered done with whatever they are doing. These "after" interviews can take place in a break room, in a hallway, in a cafeteria, or on their way to wherever they are going. It can be a challenge to focus the user on our questions, especially if we ask them about something they did 30 to 60 minutes ago.

Fortunately, people are very visual. Using impromptu "photo flash cards" can help:

Before the interview, take digital photos of the objects or artifacts that the user was using right before or during the activity you have questions about. Show one or two of these relevant photos to help "jog" the user's recollection and give them a concrete reminder of their actions.

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The Not Usable File

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User Experience (Beijing) has already demonstrated success with firms outside of China wanting to test in Beijing. New to our services will be the ability to conduct studies for China-based companies. This represents a special business license available to only those foreign firms who have been approved by the Chinese government. We are excited by the upcoming opportunity to work with China-based companies in addition to the global companies that we have already been working with in China.

Testing in China?

More Than Usability

New Dad! User Experience Specialist, Naseem Hasan, welcomed daughter Leila Sophia Hasan on December 1, 2007!

UC Volunteer Day! User Centric consultants put down their laptops and picked up a hammer to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity in Westmont, IL.
"You know you are directly impacting one family's quality of life." -Jess Buttimer, Sr. Usability Experience Specialist

Some of our senior staff also volunteered at a local food pantry that day.

Something to Wine About

by Bob Schumacher

Martin & Weyrich 2002 Zinfandel Paso Robles

On a cold January winter night in the woods of western Michigan I uncorked this bottle not knowing what to expect. This was a zesty wine that fought off the cold with huge fresh-berry flavor. There was lots of spice and rich tannins. While not expensive, it's not cheap either ($30). But it is elegant and smooth; certainly a bottle that I will come back to again. Enjoy!

User Centric Presents: Automated User Testing

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