User Research

HCDE 210 — Week 6

What did I do?

This week I practiced user research by conducting a 30 minute observation at the University of Washington Light Rail Station. In my observation, I focused on identifying different common actions and practices that occurred at the Light Rail Station. This allowed me to notice small details in peoples’ actions in such an environment that I normally do not pay attention to. My field notes consisted of various descriptions of things I observed, and also sketches that I included to help me remember things that stood out to me. Various observations, especially ones in which I observed confusions among people, allowed me to identify different design opportunities that could improve the overall user experience of the Light Rail.

Presenting on the observations we made in Suzallo Library during a class exercise.

Reflecting on my experience…

Something that arose as a bit of a problem for me during my observation was the fluctuations in the amount of people at the Light Rail during my time there. Depending on the time between train arrivals, the station was either dead to the point where I had nothing to record, or was so busy with people getting on and off the train where I could not keep up with everything that was occurring around me. However, this isn’t really something I could control. Maybe in the future I could better prepare myself for the huge changes in activity that would occur around me — but thinking back to it now, this is just another observation that I could have recorded in my field notes.

Field Notes taken during observation.

How does observation and user research lead to various design opportunities?

Obviously, in HCDE and other user-centered design processes we must focus on the needs of the user. Through “user research,” we are able to observe different practices that occur in various environments. Such observations would allow for more research in thinking about how we could improve such practices or problems that may have been identified in the observation. During my experience with user research, the most interesting practice that I observed was the practice of entering the train. Within this practice, there were multiple times where confusion occurred when someone boarding stood in front of the closed doors, confused as to why the doors would not open. As a novice train-user myself, I have also experienced the same confusion when using the Light Rail. This led me to think about ways this problem could be solved (I describe my design solutions in my memo linked above).

Location of observations — UW Light Rail Station.

Reflexivity — how I may have affected my own research

There are definitely ways I could have affected my own research. Prior expectations about things that usually happen at train stations may have caused me to subconsciously look for those things, skewing my field observations slightly. In addition, my presence and actions during observing could have affected how people were acting around me. Maybe they noticed me trying to observe people, and thus acted differently trying not to be the subject of a random college student’s science experiment. A more extreme example of this would be if a researcher included video taping or taking photos in their field observation session. People would notice that they were being filmed without consent and may decide to leave or act differently. It would be important to recognize and address this because your observations may not accurately reflect the environment you intended to study.

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