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 is 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.
So, what if we could retain the benefits that we have with "in-lab" research while capturing the richness and environmental cues associated with more natural settings? Now, through innovative advancements in mobile technology, we can expand upon the tried and true "experience sampling" research techniques, such as diary or pager studies, to effectively solicit, monitor and receive data on users' interactions at given points in time.
Consider how much more we would learn if we could collect data based on events or "triggers" (e.g., user sent a text message, accessed a specific URL on their phone, or even entered a mall based on GPS location)? Imagine if we could ask the users to do specific tasks and have them provide feedback on their phone by making a selection, typing a free-form response, speaking a response, or even taking a picture or recording video? Applicability of this research technique is vast.
User Centric is developing technology that will provide tools to do this. We want to better capture the user experience "as it happens". Email me at glew[at]usercentric.com for thoughts or ideas!