I just published an article today in UXmatters with some of the top reasons companies don’t conduct user research, and I provide tips for how to overcome these excuses and fit user research in wherever possible. Check it out:
Today I published a new article in UXmatters, “What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job.” It details the questions you should ask and consider when contemplating a new job in the UX field.
I’ve written several UX career advice articles over the years. I link to them on my Publications page, but here they are compiled for easy reference. I don’t claim to be a career expert, but these are just some of the things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) in my 15 years in UX.
What to Consider When Choosing a UX Job
UXmatters – January 4, 2016
Lately, it seems like there are more jobs in User Experience than ever before. Deciding whether to accept a particular position is always an important decision, but in a hot job market like this, with so many opportunities, choosing the right company to work for is more important than ever. As with any other job opportunity, there are typical criteria to consider such as salary, benefits, company culture, and the commute. But, in this article, I’ll focus on the special considerations when you’re contemplating a new UX job.
UX Generalists or Specialists?
UXmatters – September 7, 2015
This is a question that every UX professional faces at some point: is it better to be a UX generalist, or is it better to specialize? Companies often question whether a team of UX generalists or a mix of specialists is best. In this column, I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of generalization and specialization for UX professionals and the companies that hire them.
Better UX Internships
UXmatters – March 10, 2014
An internship is a great way to get into the field of user experience, but internships are often failures—for both the intern and the hiring company. Why? The hiring companies often don’t have a plan for how to use their interns, and interns often don’t know how they can contribute or where they fit in. In this column, I’ll discuss what interns and companies can do to ensure a better internship experience.
Career Advice for User Researchers
UXmatters – December 5, 2011
Eleven years seems like a good point at which to reflect back on the things I’ve learned over my career and pass on some advice to those who are just getting started in the field of user research.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 1: Yes, You Can!
UXmatters – November 12, 2012
In Part 1, I’ll discuss the benefits of publishing and presenting, as well as explore the excuses that prevent people from doing either. Publishing and presenting is a lot of work, especially when you’re already a busy UX professional. So why bother? Here are a few reasons you should.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 2: Publishing
UXmatters – December 10, 2012
Perhaps Part 1 of this series convinced you of the benefits of publishing, dispelled your fears, and defeated the excuses that have prevented you from publishing in the past. But how do you get started writing, and how do you get your writing published? These are the questions I’ll answer in Part 2.
Publishing and Presenting, Part 3: Presenting
UXmatters – January 7, 2013
In part 3 of this of this series, I’ll discuss how to generate ideas for conference topics, find the right conference at which to present, submit a proposal, and create a presentation, and what to do during a conference where you’re presenting.
I just published an article on UXmatters, 10 User Research Myths and Misconceptions. It addresses common misunderstandings about user research that I’ve encountered over the years.
Here’s a bonus outtake from the article, Myth 11…
Myth 11: Field Research Is Better Than Usability Testing
On the other end of the spectrum from those who don’t understand the difference between user research and usability testing, are the user research elitists who think up-front, generative user research methods are far superior to usability testing. In this view, field studies take researchers out of the lab to observe people in their natural environments performing their usual activities, while usability testing takes place in the sterile, artificial environment of a usability lab and asks people to perform a limited set of artificial tasks. Instead of learning about people and what they really do, usability testing provides the limited value of learning whether people can perform your artificial tasks.
The Truth: Both Field Research and Usability Testing Have Their Places
Field studies and usability testing are two different methods used for different, but equally important, purposes. Field studies provide information to inform design, while usability testing evaluates a design. You have to make interpretations and conclusions from the user research and apply that to a design. Even after very thorough user research, you’re never completely sure that what you’ve designed will work well for the users. Usability testing is the evaluation that either confirms your decisions or points you to refinements. Both user research and usability testing are important and necessary. There’s no reason we can’t appreciate the value of both methods.
Analyzing the data is the most interesting part of user research. That’s where you see the trends, spot insights, and make conclusions. It’s where all the work comes together and you get the answers to your questions.
Why, then, did I publish an article in UXmatters – Analysis Isn’t Cool? All too often I’ve realized that clients, management, and project stakeholders underestimate the analysis phase and just want to get to the answers. People like to say that they did user research, but they don’t like to spend the time to analyze the data. They like the deliverables, whether they read them or not, but they don’t want to spend a lot of time on the analysis to produce those deliverables.
In this article, I discuss what analysis involves, methods for individual and group analysis, and ways to speed up the analysis process.
Photo by Josh Evnin on Flickr
I’m happy to report that user experience is alive and well in Bulgaria. I just got back a week ago from attending and presenting at UXify 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria. A very enthusiastic audience of over 300 people attended a day of presentations, followed by a day of in-depth workshops. UXify was the end of a month of user experience events – UX Month Sofia.
On Friday, June 19th, I presented User Research in the Wild, a presentation about visiting people in their natural environments to observe their tasks. In addition to being a how-to guide, I covered common problems you face in conducting field studies and how to solve them, and how to overcome obstacles to field research.
On Saturday, June 20th, I gave a workshop on Paper Prototyping to about 20 attendees. After an introduction to creating paper prototypes and how to test them, the participants divided into groups to create their own paper prototypes. We only had a limited time to create them (about 40 minutes), so I was very surprised by how detailed and creative their prototypes turned out in such a short period of time. Each group of two people then joined with another group to take turns conducting usability testing on their paper prototypes. Each group did four rounds of tests, switching roles, so that each person was able to experience the role of the facilitator, “the computer,” and the participant twice. The attendees really seemed to have a good time, with a lot of laughing and joking around.
In between my own presentations, I attended several interesting presentations about dashboard design, gamification, socially responsible design, and ecommerce user experience.
It was a fun trip, and it was nice to meet a lot of similar people, in another culture, who are similarly committed and enthusiastic about user experience.
In previous research projects, there have been several times when participants were suspicious of our motives. This tends to happen when you’re doing research with a group of employees, trying to understand their work processes. These are the times that you’re trying to observe what they do in their jobs more than studying an existing system.
When there’s a direct connection to an application that they use, people tend to feel less suspicious. They can see that you’re trying to understand how well the application works and where it can be improved. This especially happens when it’s in a company that’s had poor previous experiences with reorganizations, layoffs, and offshoring. People tend to see us as another group of consultants coming in to study how they do their work to see what can be improved or who can be eliminated.
So how do you reassure people in these difficult situations about your true purpose? I wrote a recent article about this at UXmatters – Winning Over Wary Participants. Check it out, and if you have additional tips to make people feel more comfortable in these situations, feel free to leave a comment.
Image: Jake Sutton
Many user experience professionals cringe when clients want to do focus groups. In UX we extol the value of user research with individuals, either in usability testing or field studies, where we observe and interview individuals in the context of their tasks. Focus groups seem like a flaky, unreliable marketing activity. Unfortunately, because of our disdain for focus groups we sometimes extend that disdain to any research activity that involves a group of people.
Why Don’t We Like Focus Groups?
In UX we highly value observing the behavior of individuals in their natural context. Focus groups provide the exact opposite. They reveal what people say in a group out of context of their typical environment.
What People Say
Focus groups usually gather feelings, attitudes, opinions, and preferences; but they can’t tell us about behavior. We can’t rely much on what people say they do, because so much of what we do is done automatically without much conscious thought. So it’s difficult for people to accurately talk about what they do, out of context. That’s why we like to observe people in the context of performing their tasks. It’s more accurate, and it’s easier for people to show us what they do.
In a Group
Being in a group has its limitations:
- Group dynamics often influence individuals to go along with the group instead of speaking their own minds. They often say what they think will sound good to the group, and they may not feel comfortable speaking honestly about certain topics.
- A few outspoken people often dominate the discussion, while others remain more silent.
- You get much less information from each person than you would in individual sessions.
- Group sessions are not useful for evaluation, because it’s hard for people to evaluate a design or prototype unless they can try it out themselves, which usually isn’t possible in a group.
Out of Context
Focus groups bring people out of their usual context into an unnatural environment. We don’t get to see their usual behavior, the tasks they perform, their tools and technology, their environment, or the people they typically interact with.
Group Sessions Can be Useful
Because of these disadvantages with focus groups, we tend to overlook the value of any type of group research session. However, group research sessions can be valuable. Even when we are specifically requested to conduct focus groups, we don’t have to conduct traditional, marketing focus groups. We can modify them to make them more useful.
Why Conduct Group Research?
Group sessions provide some advantages over individual sessions:
- You save time and money by meeting with many participants at once.
- Group sessions are a useful way to quickly gather initial information about a topic, before going out to do individual user research sessions. For example, you could learn about a process at a high-level by having a group of employees each talk about their role in the process.
- Interaction between participants can spark discussions that might never be revealed in individual interviews. For example, a group of employees from the same company may have a more productive discussion about their work than if you held individual interviews with each of them separately. Because they all know each other and have things in common, they may talk about things together that they would never bring up to you, as an outsider.
- In group sessions, you can have participants work together in small groups and listen to their decision making and reasoning. For example, you can do group card sorting to hear how participants make decisions about how to group the cards.
In addition to group discussion, you can break up a group into smaller groups or give them individual activities.
The Entire Group
Discussing topics as a group takes advantage of the group dynamic to hear different perspectives, to get consensus, to debate, or to hear about different parts of a process.
Breaking into several smaller groups allows individuals to work together on activities that would be unwieldy to do with the entire group. As they work together, you can listen to and observe their decision making. You can then have each group present their results to the entire group to generate further discussion.
Another option is to have the participants each perform an activity on their own and then present it to the group. This is effective with activities that require thought and are easier to do alone. For example, you could give the participants time to draw diagrams of their process, and then you could ask them to present their drawing to the entire group. You get the advantage of getting each person’s individual perspective but also with the advantage of group discussion.
Any group activity becomes difficult to manage with too many participants. More than ten participants are usually too much. If there are more than ten people that need to be involved, it’s better to schedule multiple sessions.
Dyads and Triads
Market research uses terms like dyads and triads to describe group sessions with two and three participants. Groups of these sizes have different dynamics than a large group. They combine some of the dynamics of individual interviews with those of group sessions. In user experience, dyads (sessions with two participants) or triads (sessions with three participants) make sense when there’s a natural relationship between those people. For example, if you’re researching the car buying process, it might make sense to interview a husband and wife together. Or if three employees perform different parts of a related process, it may make sense to talk with them together to understand the process and how their roles relate.
Alternative Group Research Activities
In addition to group discussions, there are many creative and unique activities that you can use to gather information about the users and their tasks, and to get user input into the design. Instead of describing these techniques in detail, each of which could be its own article, I’ve provided links to read more about each technique.
Group Card Sorting
If organization of information and gathering common terminology is your goal, group card sorting is a quick way to gather that information. You can break up the group into smaller sub-groups of two or three participants each. They then work together to sort pieces of information on index cards or post-it notes into categories and sub-categories, and then name each category. For more information, see: http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/card-sorting.html
Similar to card sorting, you can have sub-groups work together to group related items on post-it notes and then label those groups to create affinity diagrams. Afterwards, the entire group can discuss the themes that emerge. For more information, see: http://www.usabilitybok.org/affinity-diagram
Drawing or Modeling
Breaking the group into small groups or individuals and having them illustrate or build a model of their ideas, concepts, workflows, or processes is a great way to get insight into their thought processes and mental models. After each person presents their drawing or model to the group, discussion is facilitated by having these concrete items to talk about. For more information, see: http://uxmag.com/articles/creativity-based-research-the-process-of-co-designing-with-users and http://johnnyholland.org/2011/10/storyboarding-ux-part-3-storyboarding-as-a-workshop-activity/
Individuals or groups can create collages from a set of provided images to express their feelings about a particular issue. The collages then can be described and discussed. For more information, see: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/02/06/collaging-getting-answers-questions-you-dont-know-ask/
You can give the participants assignments to do before the group session, such as writing about or taking photos of an experience, creating drawings, or creating collages. Because they do this outside the group session, it allows more time for presenting their work and discussing it as a group. It also brings in a little bit of each person’s real experience outside of the conference room. For more information, see: http://johnnyholland.org/2010/05/not-to-prime-is-a-crime/
Several sources provide creative group activities to provide input to design problems. Gamestorming, a book by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo provides more than 80 group games to encourage creativity and generate new ideas. The site Design Games also provides a number of games with complete directions about how to play them.
Group Sessions as a First Step
Group sessions with users or stakeholders are an efficient way to get high-level information about subject matter, users, tasks, and processes. With participatory design and design games, you can get user input into the design. Ideally, group sessions shouldn’t replace individual observations and interviews with users, but they are a good first step to gather the initial information to understand the basics before going out to conduct field research.
Group photo courtesy of Kennisland on Flickr under Creative Commons license