User Research Process Blog

The Process

The Purpose of User Research is to observe people in specific places participating in specific practices. There are many ways to do this, including interviews, eye tracking, surveys, or simple observation. To execute user research in the field of commuting, I chose to do fly-on-the-wall observation at the Husky Union Building bus stop. While I was there, I observed the people, and practices attracted to the place and made jottings, or quick notes and sketches of their activities.

Left: Jottings in my HCDE Notebook. Right: HUB Bus Station.
One page of jottings. Shows a sketch of people at the bus stop, with benches and X’s for people, and also an observer comment [OC].

While observing, I took quick notes, or “jottings” in (very) messy handwriting along with sketches and maps of the bus stops.

The picture to the left shows an example page of jottings. I have observations of the people standing at the bus stop and their interactions with the space and with other people. I also took notes on the activities and actions of these people. This page also shows a small sketch that shows a map of where each person was sitting as I observed them. This helped me keep track of who was who and was interesting to see how people distributed themselves throughout the space. This page also shows an example of [OC] observer comments from when a friend walked by and distracted me from my note taking. This note allows me to keep track of what was actually happening and how my own thought and practices as a research affect the research process.

The Reflection

So What?

My favorite part about user research was taking notes and observing people. I liked to go to a crowded place and people watch with purpose. I found myself very intrigued with peoples actions and reactions. Especially during out practice user research at the HUB cafeteria, where there was enough people and activity that we could examine how people react to others. These observations were harder while observing commuting because people there were mostly avoiding each other.

If I was to do a similar project again, I think I would choose my timing more deliberately. I was observing the HUB Bus Stop at 2:00 on a Tuesday, at a time when most people are in class or studying in libraries. It would have been more interesting to observe people during rush hour, when the transit system is more heavily impacted by commuters. It would have been interesting to see how peak times compare to slower times, like the time I was observing. In the future, I would pay closer attention to the time along with the people, places, and practices I am observing.

Now what?

User research can be applied throughout a project. Firstly, it can help a design team identify questions and goals for their design. For example, after observing students in the Husky Union Building, we noticed that people often leave their wet jackets on even though it is warm in the HUB. This prompted us to ask the question: how can we design a temporary storage solution for jackets? Thus, observing real people allowed us to come up with a prompt for a new design solution. Secondly, user research can help a team refine the goals of their project. For example, if the team was to return to the HUB and discover that students only take their jackets off when they sit down to eat, the team could create a more specific goal tailored to students who will be eating on the go. Furthermore, the techniques of user research can be further applied throughout the design process. Observation skills can help evaluate the usability of a product prototype.

User research helps designers identify problems that need to be solved, but it cannot be relied on to find solutions. User research focuses on things that already exist, problems that users face, and the realities of product use. Thus, when designers are ideating solutions, they cannot rely on user research because they need to be looking forward instead of at things that already exist.

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