I’ve heard a lot of bad ideas for user research over the years. Most of these have come from people trying to get around the time, cost, and effort of user research. I write about these in my latest UXmatters article, The Worst Ideas I’ve Heard for User Research. I discuss:
- Management trying to offshore UX work
- Management thinking that anyone off the street could moderate a usability test
- Using your own employees as research participants, because you can’t get the actual users
- Clients wanting to conceal their identities to participants
- Making research sessions too formal and uncomfortable by reading the opening instructions off a card
- A field study participant deciding to move the session to a conference room
- A participant changing an individual session into a group session with coworkers
- Teams thinking that they can save time by skipping the research report
Luckily all these bad ideas failed, but we can learn from them. Check out more in the article at UXmatters.
“innovatiebroedplaats” by verbeeldingskr8 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
In user research, we primarily do two things – observe people and ask questions. Ideally, we want to observe people’s natural behavior, without having our presence influence what they do.
Observation sounds deceptively simple. You sit and watch what people do. It seems like anyone can do that. But to get the most value out of observation, there’s more to it than passively looking and listening.
In my latest UXmatters article, I examine what observation involves, the different types of observation methods, and explore a more rarely used method in UX research – naturalistic observation. The Role of Observation in User Research
Image courtesy of: You Belong in Longmont
What do these three things have in common – playing in a one-man band, juggling chainsaws, and babysitting 10 three-year-olds? When you try to do all of these things at the same time, it’s only slightly more difficult than conducting field studies.
Of course, I’m just kidding, but not by much. In my opinion, field studies are the most difficult user research technique for three reasons: unpredictability, the need to learn about unfamiliar domains, and the need to deal with competing demands. There’s not much you can do about unpredictability or the need to learn a new domain, but there are things that you can do to better handle the competing demands of field studies.
In my latest article on UXmatters, I discuss these competing demands and how to best handle them:
- Observing and listening
- Determining whether and when to ask questions
- Formulating questions
- Assessing answers
- Managing the session
- Assessing the session
- Keeping track of the time
- Managing observers
- Capturing the session
- Maintaining a good rapport with the participant
Read more in my latest article, Handling the Competing Demands of Field Studies.
Image credit: Highways England on Flickr
Affectionate dog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a user researcher. Treat him or her well and you’ll have years of effectively designed products. This guide will help you in the care and nurturing of your user researcher.
Feed your researcher well
- Research days are often very busy and unpredictable. The most important person to consider on these days is not the clients or other observers; it’s the person who has to remain sharpest – the researcher.
- Make sure your researcher is well fed and has enough time to eat meals. This will provide the energy needed to concentrate on the research session.
- You may remember the meals, but don’t forget the snacks. If everyone else gets cookies, make sure you save some for the researcher.
- Research is often very mentally challenging. It’s easy for your researcher to get burned out, and when that happens, he or she can’t operate at top form, which could mean missing things or not asking the right questions.
- Don’t schedule too many sessions in a single day. Four to five usability testing sessions and three or four field studies are about the maximum before burnout sets in.
- Provide enough breaks between sessions, and allow your researcher to relax during those times.
- Don’t fill the break times with meetings or discussions with clients. Provide time to rest the mind. Your researcher may need to step away and have some alone time.
- Most researchers don’t want to do the same things all the time. If you don’t provide enough variety, eventually he or she will seek variety by going to another company.
- Provide variety in the following aspects: clients, platforms to work on (websites, intranets, mobile devices, software, products, service design, etc.), research activities (usability testing, unmoderated studies, field studies, etc.), and types of people to work with.
Let your researcher run free
- Don’t micromanage your user researcher. Trust his or her judgment.
- Provide input on what you want to learn from the research, review the research plan, but give your researcher the independence to make the final decisions on how to accomplish the research goals. Remember you selected your researcher for his or her expertise. Listen to it.
Provide enough time to do quality work
- Ensure that your researcher has enough time to plan the research and analyze the results.
- Understand that your researcher will often get very interested and involved in the results and will want to produce a thorough deliverable. If there is time, allow for this.
Give praise and recognition
- Like most people, your researcher will appreciate praise, recognition, and rewards for a job well done.
- Your researcher will appreciate it when people take the user research seriously and appreciate the findings.
Let your researcher out to play with others
- Your researcher will often interact with users, but otherwise, research is often a solitary activity that can get somewhat lonely.
- Encourage your researcher work with others on the project team, such as designers and developers, to provide a more well-rounded perspective of their work and to give them a first-hand insight into the research.
- Don’t exclude your researcher as soon as the research part of the project is completed. Keep your researcher around to use his or her valuable knowledge in the design and development phases.
Encourage your researcher’s development
- Encourage your researcher to keep up with developments in the field by reading books, reading blogs and other Web resources, and attending events.
- Encourage him or her to publish, present, and attend conferences and other industry events.
By following these guidelines, you should have a long and healthy working relationship with your user researcher. Good luck and have fun!