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Tattle Tale Participants

Have you ever come across a tattle-tale participant? See if this sounds familiar.

You conduct a user research session (interview, contextual inquiry, focus group, etc.), asking simple questions to get the participants to speak about the subject at a basic level of understanding. Although you may know some of the answers to the questions you’re asking, you ask the questions anyway to hear the answers from the participants’ perspective. Misunderstanding your intent, the participant is alarmed that you don’t know what you’re doing and tattles on you to the client, “It was clear from his questions that he didn’t know anything about our process/system/technology.”

For example, a few years ago I was doing research on a company’s use of SAP. We had a group of interns show us the HR tasks that they do in SAP. Our questions led them to conclude that we didn’t know anything about SAP (which was mostly correct). They tattled to their manager who contacted our main client, alarmed that we weren’t SAP experts. Fortunately, he reassured her that we were user experience experts, and we weren’t supposed to be SAP experts.

What turns a participant into a tattle tale? Usually, it comes from a misunderstanding of our role. As user experience consultants working on many different projects, we constantly have to learn about new organizations, new systems, new processes, new technologies, and new types of people. We interview business stakeholders and conduct user research to learn about these things, but our goal isn’t to become experts. In fact, it’s often better to not be an expert. We have the advantage of seeing a group, system, process, or set of tasks from an outside perspective. Because we don’t already have the same insider knowledge as the business stakeholders and participants,  we can get them to explain things to us as outsiders. To do this, we often need to ask basic questions and sometimes even act “dumb” to get participants to fully explain things that they would otherwise forget to explain or gloss over at a high level.

The worst thing about tattling is that it can make us afraid to ask questions for fear that they might expose our “ignorance.” So make it clear who the experts are – the users and the business stakeholders, and where your expertise lies – user experience. Combining the expertise of business stakeholders, users, and user experience professionals is the key to a successful project.

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New Article: Capturing User Research

My latest article for UXmatters is about Capturing User Research. It discusses the pros and cons of various methods of capturing user research from handwritten notes, typing up notes on a laptop or tablet, having someone else take notes, recording the audio, recording with video, taking photos, logging, and simply relying on your memory. 

Read the entire article at UXmatters: Capturing User Research.

IA Summit 2012 presentation: User Research is Unnatural (But That’s Okay)

I just got back from the IA Summit 2012 in New Orleans, where I presented User Research is Unnatural (But That’s Okay). Yes, that may seem like a strange topic for a user researcher to present, but I think it’s very important to remember how strange and unnatural user research can seem for participants. The point of my presentation is that by remaining aware of the awkward and uncomfortable aspects of user research, we can take steps to minimize or eliminate those problems to get better research results.

See my slides on Slideshare:  User Research is Unnatural (But That’s Okay)

This was my first time attending the IA Summit, and it was a great conference with some excellent speakers and intriguing topics. As a user researcher who more often attends UPA and CHI conferences, it was interesting to attend a more design-oriented conference. I’m already looking forward to next year’s IA Summit, which will be in Baltimore.

New article: Communicating User Research Findings

My latest article for UXmatters is about Communicating User Research Findings.

I’ve created a variety of different types of deliverables over the years, to communicate my findings and recommendations from user research. It can be difficult because you often have a variety of different people in the audience, from management, product owners, designers, and developers. Each brings a different level of interest in the findings.

This article discusses the considerations of choosing a deliverable format, types of deliverables, and elements of effective deliverables.

Read the entire article at UXmatters: Communicating User Research Findings.

New article: Career Advice for User Researchers

I just published a new article in my Practical Usability column in UXmatters: Career Advice for User Researchers.

As I approached the ten year anniversary of my first job in usability, I started to reflect on all the things I’ve learned over the years. Originally, I was going to distill the main lessons I’d learned over those years into an article tentatively titled, “Ten things in Ten Years.” Well, I never got around to completing that article, and the ten year anniversary passed. Eventually, the idea evolved into career advice for people new to user research, and I finally got around to publishing it around my 11th anniversary in user research.

The article covers a lot of practical advice for people considering a career in user research, including the following topics:

  • Do you want to be a User Researcher, a Designer, or both?
  • Who do you want to work for?
  • What type of employee do you want to be?
  • Why type of projects do you want to work on?
  • What value does the company you’re considering place on user research?
  • Where does the company you’re considering draw the line between research and design?
  • What is the prestige and reputation of the company you’re considering?
  • Does the job title matter?
  • Where do you want to work?
  • How do you break into the field?
  • Do you need a portfolio?
  • How to cultivate your online presence.
  • What to do once you have a job.

Read the entire article at UXmatters: Career Advice for User Researchers.

New Article: Client Reactions to User Research Findings

As a design researcher, I’ve heard a lot of reactions from clients about the user research findings, both positive and negative. Fortunately, they’ve been mostly positive, but the negative reactions make for the best stories. I’ve written about those in my latest article in UXmatters: Client Reactions to User Research Findings. It includes the following reactions:

  • “Ho hum. Where are the designs?”
  • “We already knew that.”
  • “You’re wrong!”
  • “You talked with only 12 people.”
  • “Why didn’t you mention this problem?”
  • “The recommendations aren’t specific enough.”
  • “We could have done that ourselves.”

Read the entire article at UXmatters: Client Reactions to User Research Findings.