It happens to every user researcher at some point. You’re supposed to conduct user research sessions, and you get sick. Sometimes you know in advance. Other times it happens during the sessions. Either way, it’s usually too late to do anything about it.
So much goes into planning, recruiting, and scheduling user research sessions that by the time they’re set, they must happen. And usually the only person who knows enough to conduct the research is the researcher him or herself. So, often there’s nothing else to do but suck it up and conduct the research while sick.
However, there are things that you can do to prepare for the chance that you’ll be sick, and there are ways to minimize the effects. In my latest UXmatters article, The Show Must Go On, I provide advice about how to prepare for the eventuality of being sick, to avoid getting sick, and how to conduct research when you are sick.
Read: The Show Must Go On
“Relief is on the way” by kylestern is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 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
As UX researchers, we tend to focus more time on explaining our findings than in providing our recommendations. Yet, however well we explain the findings and recommendations, there comes a time when we’re not present, and the people who have to implement the recommended changes have to rely on the written recommendations and what they remember from your explanation. So it’s very important to ensure that your UX recommendations are understandable, concise, specific, believable, authoritative, actionable, feasible, flexible, prioritized, and easy to review. I provide advice on how to provide better recommendations in my latest article on UXmatters:
Providing Better UX Recommendations
Any user research is better than doing no user research, right? If you can’t reach your target users, you can do research with your company’s employees, because they’re kind of similar right? If you can’t visit people in person to see them perform their tasks, maybe you can do phone interviews or send out a survey. That’s better than nothing, right?
The truth is that it’s sometimes better not to do any user research than to do half-assed user research. I’m not saying that you always have to the perfect user research conditions or its not worth doing. In reality, we rarely have all the time we need and the perfect circumstances to conduct extensive user research. So it’s understandable that we sometimes have to cut corners and make do with what we’re able to get. However, there’s a fine line between discount user research and half-assed user research.
The danger is when you always cut corners, you can become an enabler. Your shortcuts become the norm, allowing your company to check off the user research checkbox, allowing them to say, “Yes, we do user research.” If you can’t eventually convince them to devote more time and effort to user research, sometimes it’s better to practice tough love and let them fail by not doing any user research, rather than allowing them to rely on poor quality research.
In my latest UXmatters article, I provide advice about how to know when you’re practicing half-assed user research and how to improve. Check it out: Avoiding Half-Assed User Research
Image by Spider.Dog
Have you ever wondered what qualities you need to succeed in user research? I just published an article on UXmatters, Qualities of Effective User Researchers, which lists the following qualities that lead to a successful career in user research:
- Ability to Learn Quickly
- Organizational Skills and Attention to Detail
- Time Management Skills
- Mental Agility
- Flexibility and Adaptability
- Good Memory
- Effective Notetaking
- Analytical Skills
- Problem Solving
- Design Skills
- Writing Skills
- Communication Skills
This may sound like an intimidating list, but you don’t have to be perfect in all of these areas. Check out the full article on UXmatters – Qualities of Effective User Researchers.
Cow image by FFCU (Free for Commercial Use) by Creative Commons License
Over the years, I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned about the types of questions and topics that participants have a hard time answering accurately in user research. Most people do try to answer your questions, but they may not be able to easily and accurately answer these types of questions:
- Remembering details about the past
- Predicting what they might do in the future
- Accurately answering a hypothetical question
- Discussing the details of their tasks out of context
- Telling you what they really need
- Imagining how something might work
- Envisioning an improved design
- Distinguishing between minuscule design differences
- Explaining the reasons for their behavior
I discuss these types of difficult questions, and better ways to get that information from participants, in my latest article on UXmatters:
Avoiding Hard-to-Answer Questions in User Interviews.
Image credit: Véronique Debord-Lazaro on Flickr
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