People Watching — User Research Sprint

Observations at the Link

On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, I walked to the University of Washington’s Link Station and observed people. Yes, a great way to spend a holiday indeed. The purpose of this assignment was to be able to observe instead of prescribe what people do, a fundamental skill. The observations need to be conducted without bias to a person specifically. This makes research much more reliable. With my notepad and pen in hand, I was prepared to jot down a variety of observations. I was confident that there would be many different observations I could make because of the abundance of people who use the light rail.

People getting on and off the train


Something that I found quite challenging during this study was that a lot of people actually do the same things, such as being on their phones. There were a lot less variety in observations than I thought there would be. Because most people were on their phones, sometimes with headphones in and sometimes without, I found it difficult to observe what they were doing specifically without looking too nosy. I realized that most people rely on their phones for contact with other people as well as information. A question that this sprint raised was how would these observations differ in different countries? Perhaps people act differently in public transportation in other cultures. In a country without the technology that America has, what would people who commute be doing to pass the time instead?

People using the light rail, a fast and efficient way to travel

Future Uses

Making observations is a fundamental component in a department like HCDE where those involved are designing and engineering things for the public to use. Being able to make observations instead of prescriptions is very important because bias often throws off studies, making them unreliable and therefore unusable. For example, making an observation would be noting that there is a person with a violin on the train playing music. A prescription would be that the purpose of the man playing violin on the train is in order to make more money by trapping his audience. It is important to separate the person from the activity being done whenever research is being conducted. Although making observations is important for professional activities, it is also useful in one’s personal life. This skill may allow someone to read the atmosphere of a room or even another person and allow deeper connections to begin. Making observations is a valuable skill to have both in a professional setting as well as a personal one.