Posts Tagged ‘ user research ’

Class notes F14 – Week 6 – User research 1: Planning and Conducting

We began class with an overview of the user-centered review process.

UX process

We identified the specific activities taken in 2 of the articles we read and mapped them onto the steps of the UCD process.

We spent the rest of the class working on an exercise to create a plan for user research for a system that would improve the UX in the PMU food court. Some of the main take-aways about user research are below:

  1. Appropriate research goals: to understand users, their goals, needs, mental models, and current experiences.
  2. Inappropriate research goals: to figure out what users want, or to treat them as designers. Unless you’re doing participatory design, this research goal is not very useful. Remember: users are not designers.
  3. Observation is queen. Whenever possible, conduct some sort of observation – ideally coupled with interviewing, as in contextual inquiry.
  4. We usually aim for in-depth understanding – qualitative data from a limited number of people rather that shallow information from large numbers of people.

We briefly discussed the various methods used to conduct user research: contextual inquiry, ethnographic interviewing, diary studies. See an informative slide deck about diary studies below:

One method that you can use to gain an in-depth understanding of users is task analysis. We did not discuss it in detail in class, but please do read about it and ask questions in the comments below.

Finally, remember to let me know if these class notes are useful to you, and to indicate in some way, by rating, commenting, etc. that you have read this post.

Some tips for user research

  • Keep in mind this is a class project with very limited time. You might not be able to collect all the data you want. Some data is better than none. Even if you collect a lot of data, keep in mind you have to analyze it later, and that takes time, too! So, it might be ideal to conduct 12-20 interviews, but you probably should stop at about 6.

  • Take detailed notes during data collection, in addition to audio recordings. You will probably rely on your notes a lot, because you might not have time to transcribe your recordings. Transcription is very time consuming.

  • Remember to focus on understanding user behavior, but not asking people what they need, want, and how they would build it. It might be wise to run your interview questions by me. Your goal is to observe and understand human behavior very well so you can see opportunities for innovation.

  • DO take advantage of existing secondary research. Look at existing reports and data, and then conduct a bit of qualitative research so you can get a deeper understanding of the issues and gain empathy for the users. For example, I am sure there are reports about how young adults consume news, or about difficulties small businesses face. (I’m not sure on any research about Thirsty Thursday, but there must be something about what constitutes good campus life). Also, there is a lot of information about teaching and teachers and how they should teach things like modeling and simulation. Find some. Don’t reinvent the wheel! You can include a summary of this secondary research in your user research report, or allow it to inform the persona(s). Make sure you cite your sources.

  • In your user research, follow the steps you learned in class and cite your sources for the methods and processes you are using!

  • Do not let your assumptions get in the way. Avoid the risk of seeing what you want to see – especially if you think you already know how to solve problems you haven’t researched yet.

  • ASK ME QUESTIONS. I’m here to help. I believe there is value in you figuring things out, so try, but if you find that you are struggling too much, email me or ask me to a group meeting.

Finally, please remember that reading this blog as well as classmates’ blogs and commenting on them is a requirement of participation in this course. I think/expect that you read my posts within 1-3 days after I post them. Is that the case? Please let me know by interacting with this post as soon as you read it. It is important information and I need to know if you saw it. Like, rate, comment.

User research in 5 (easy?) steps

Conveniently, Smashing Magazine (are you subscribing to their RSS feed?) just published a guide (with pictures!)  on a five-step process for conducting user research. Please use it to help you with your upcoming assignment.

See also their article on data-driven design. It explains how you can ground (re)design decisions in data and shows a case study.

On a related note, lest you think design is easy, consider this: in a recent usability study, half of the participants were UNABLE to find a product on shopping websites and add them to their cart.

Good design is not easy. It takes a lot of iterations and user research. Perfect design is impossible. There will always be a group of users whom the design doesn’t serve well. There will always be errors, trade-offs, and frustrations. This is why it is important to learn a reliable process that’s more likely to take us closer to good design.

Class notes: User research wrap-up

We just finished up the first big part of the User-Centered Design process, user research.

We moved from learning about planning and conducting user research to analyzing data into the form of personas and then using scenarios to derive specific design requirements. The course is designed so that you apply these concepts in upcoming assignments. So, the user research project that you will conduct is meant for you to implement these same steps. As you can begin to see, doing the work raises issues that are not as straightforward as they seem when we read about them.

We used the quotes in the slides below to provide integration and meaning to what we have done so far and what we are doing in this class:

Should you need a more linear, defined outline of the steps in the UCD process, please go through the slides I use for my undergraduate class:

The main points to remember so far are, that if you want to build GOOD, useful, and successful computer products:

  1. You need to put the users first.
  2. You need to understand very well actual users – talk to actual people. Avoid the trap of self-referential design where you design for yourself!
  3. Creating ideas for what the product should do comes from a deep understanding of actual users, and happens only after you have a good understanding of actual users.
  4. To understand actual users and their needs, you need to observe them, talk to them, ask them questions, and then synthesize all that information into personas.
  5. Persona-based scenarios help you bridge the gap between research and design (envisioning what the product should be able to do).
  6. The idea for the product emerges from the combination of user research and your own creativity. Your own creativity must remain grounded in the user research. Personas help you stay grounded.
  7. How the product should work, and the programming behind it are not even issues at this time. At this time, we assume that the computer can work magic.

The idea of designing products first and programming later was revolutionary about 10 years ago. It was introduced in Alan Cooper’s book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. These days, it is pretty much taken for granted.

I highly recommend looking at this book a bit closer. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s summary:

Why are VCRs impossible to program? Why do car alarms make us all crazy at all the wrong times? Why do our computers reprimand us when they screw up? All of these computerized devices are wildly sophisticated and powerful, and they have proliferated our desks, our cars, our homes and our offices. So why are they still so dauntingly complicated to use?

The highly renowned Alan Cooper, “The Father of Visual Basic,” tackles this issue head-on with his new book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, from Sams Publishing. Cooper believes that powerful and pleasurable software-based products can be created by the simple expedient of designing computer-based products first and then building them. Designing interactive software-based products is a specialty that is as demanding as the construction of these same products, Cooper says. Ironically, building computerized products isn’t difficult, they only seem so because our process for making them is out of date. To compound the problem, the costs of badly designed software are incalculable, robbing us of time, customer loyalty, competitive advantage and opportunity.

I would like to ask you:

Is this UCD (and GDD) process what you thought it would be? Does it differ from your experiences and expectations? How so, or why not?

Class notes: Personas

The main questions we worked with this week were:

  • what are personas?
  • what is their role in the UCD/GDD process?
  • why are they useful?
  • how do you go about creating them?

Also, I hope the Cadillac Cue presentation helped you integrate your understanding of steps in the design process.

Please use your Class Reflection blog to synthesize this knowledge of personas and the design knowledge so far, and to point out any questions you have right now about either of these.

(Opportunities for innovation are) Hidden in Plain Sight

I mentioned in class Jan Chipchase’s excellent book, Hidden in Plain Sight (read an excerpt and reviews here). Please consider following him on one or more social media accounts. Note how he uses Pinterest to organize observational data thematically.

The book explains this ethnographer’s approach to quickly understanding a new place’s culture and to looking around, while knowing what to focus on (e.g. wake up rituals, shopping, money transferring, behaviors at the limits of cultural acceptance) in order to get a quick grasp of the culture.

His approach helps us become better observers and learn to identify opportunities for innovation in everyday life.

I highly recommend the book, but I also highly recommend that you create the habit of observing closely and identifying such opportunities – you might even share them on your blog!


Guerilla user research: CGT graduate studies website

At the bottom of this post, you can see the synthesis of your research summaries. I looked for common themes across all the 5 groups’ results and wrote this summary, which I sent to the CoT Web team.

I have also posted a longer document on Bb, in the Useful Resources folder. It includes the results from all 5 groups.

Please reflect on this guerilla user research experience. Consider questions such as:

  • How can you structure interview questions better in order to get useful information?
  • Is it better to focus on broader user goals (as Cooper advocates) or on specific work information (as the UX Book advocates)?
  • What do you take away from the experience of translating interview data to design requirements?
  • What did you learn this week as you applied the readings to a hands-on activity?

In the comments below, let me know what you thought about the format of this particular class. Or, at the very least, let me know you’ve read the post by rating, liking or disliking.


Twenty graduate students enrolled in CGT 512 – Human Factors of Human Computer Interface Design conducted a quick study based on peer interviews in order to identify potential graduate students’ needs related to the CGT graduate studies website.

Below is a summary of the research findings from all the independent research groups.

Content requirements for the CGT graduate studies website:

A. Why Purdue CGT?

1. What is Purdue CGT?! – clear description of what program is, what study will entail. Showcase:

    • Faculty
    • Faculty research
    • Student projects
    • Courses and plans of study
    • Value to students: Opportunities upon graduation

B. Admission requirements

2. Forms, procedures, requirements

C. Prepare for life at Purdue

3.     Get to know faculty and students – social networking links

4.     Ease transition by linking to important information about:

    • Housing
    • Transportation
    • Cultural groups
    • Help with English language