by Gavin Lew
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.
by Wendy Yee
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.
GPS system display screen