Exploratory User Research (Weeks 3–4)

Catherine Shen
3 min readFeb 1, 2016


What I did for exploratory user research this past weekend. Reflections on the process and notes documentation.

Initial brainstorming of exploratory user research methods

Talking to people

I reached out to five friends and family to set up time to talk. Just this act of getting the juices lose and getting ready to talk to people was a little scary for me. It was helpful for me to send out multiple feelers so that I didn’t feel as though all my eggs were in one basket. In the end, I ended up only interviewing two people about cars.

  • Mark: 45-minute interview where I asked more questions. This felt more like a traditional interview and it was a little hard to get free flowing conversation going. I realized I should not have started out with the context of autonomous cars. Instead, starting out with general driving questions would have helped to ease the interview more so in the right direction. Asked Mark to do a “write Love Letter / Break Up Letter” exercise but he hasn’t “turned it in” yet.
Notes from Mark’s interview
  • Shuping: 1-hour conversation where I asked more directed storytelling questions and didn’t bring up autonomous cars at all until the end. This worked out really well although for this specific interviewee, getting out of the This started out a little slow as the interviewee was more used to close-ended questions but it got more and more interesting as things went along.
Notes from Shuping interview

Ethnographic observation

Spent 1.5-hour riding the entire route of the 71A bus from CMU to downtown Pittsburgh to Highland Park and back. Almost fell asleep on the bus but then got my second wind. This was pretty exhausting for me really. I think it helped to provide some good context and raise interesting scenario questions for me for the project.

Notes from bus ride


For another friend, hard to coordinate time and am comfortable with email convos with her so decided to send her a short three-question “survey” to answer as a testing of a method. Am still waiting to hear back.

Questions asked (btw, these questions came from Eric Spaulding):

  • What are the three things you think of when you think of autonomous vehicle?
  • What are the three things you think of when you sit behind the wheel of your car?
  • Choose one: Write a fun love letter or breakup letter to your car

Here’s Where We Are…

We need to start developing scenarios and personas/user groups and then get into more immersive exploratory user research methods.

Whiteboard notes from the class discussion



Catherine Shen

designer. thinker. @CMUDesign masters. @NorthwesternU econ. catherine-shen.com.