-Pilot observation of whiteboard

HCID 531: Evaluation Studio | Week 1

Observation is a paramount element to user research, and developing these skills early and through practice is crucial. Our first assignment for the quarter was to observe the whiteboard use, ideally in the context of meeting.

In class, we brainstormed a bunch of research questions to design a digital whiteboard for businesses. The questions we came up with include who use whiteboard, in what context do people use white board and what’s their expectation of digital whiteboard.


This was my first experience of true observation of a product used in context and it was a great learning experience that allowed me to capture “unimportant” details.

I did the observation on April 8, 2015. The first one is a 3 people group meeting in Research Common and we observed it from 12:40 am to 1:15pm. But this group meeting started 3 hours before I observing and during my observation they did not use the whiteboard a lot. So I decided to find another meeting to observe. The second one is a 4 people group meeting in the Design Lab of HCDE. I observed it from 3:50pm to 4:27 pm. Before I went to the second observation, I also went to business school to see whether someone are using whiteboard. I found one but they refused me to do the observation because they are doing a private case.

First observation:

Second observation:

Before each observation, we introduced to each other, then they start their meeting and I sat beside to conduct observation. I sketched the position of their seats and observed the following things:

What’s the role of each team member? Where do they sit?

Who starts meeting, how?

Wo speaks, who doesn’t? Who writes? On what?

What visual aides, material are used?

When are whiteboard used? By whom? How?

At first 5 minutes I used my laptop to take notes, but I found it does not facilitate me to sketch. So I turned to use notebook instantly. During first observation, I only used sketch but I found it is not effective to record or the details happened just now. So during the second observation, I used a table to record the time, actions and notes.

After the observations, I wrote up notes as soon as possible to add more details in order to complete record of what was said and done.

Here is my notes:

First Observation

Second Observation


Here are some assumptions I have during the second observation:

1. This group has 4 members. During the discussion, 3 of them always stand up and write some thing on the white board, but one only say a few words and keeps writing something in laptop. So I guess maybe the role of this person is recording this meeting.

2. They choose the closest table by the whiteboard, so I think they are prepared to use the whiteboard.

3. The two who faced the white board write more on the whiteboard but the other do don’t write a lot. So my assumption is that people who face the whiteboard pay more attention to it and want to make more use of it.

4. Same with the first observation, I found people who speak more also write more on the whiteboard. I assumed the one who spoke most play a more important role in the team and in charge of writing on whiteboard.

In class, we were taught not to confuse observations with interpretations. I tried to remove the social assumptions I encounter while observing and documenting and replace them with rich descriptions of the context in which observed behaviors take place.

In the second observation, I think whiteboard plays an important role. In this meeting, who speaks most write most on the whiteboard. When they have new ideas, they would write it down on the whiteboard instantly and they would erase the old version. They also use color to make difference but I’m not sure they used it to differentiate who wrote it or for content. There were a lot of pens and colors but they only chose two and during the whole process, only one person wrote at the same time. So one of my questions is that why they don’t write on the whiteboard at the same time? During observation, I found they have some petty actions, such as put the pen cap back and then go back to seat; play with the pen in the hand. Do they think they would not write on whiteboard anymore so that they put the pen cap back? Do the pens help them think or they feel the use of these pens troublesome? Is the process of erasing the board annoying? Do they only write on the whiteboard when they felt confident of what they were writing?


Overall, I think this assignment was extremely rewarding and allowed me an opportunity to practice a new skill and explore my own assumptions. The most difficult thing was finding a team using whiteboard on time and they approve you to conduct the observation.

From the observation exercise, I learned the value of having freedom with pen and paper, particularly around drawing diagrams which can capture an observation quickly and thoroughly, and gives the opportunity to analyze it in greater depth later. Practicing observation is a great way for identifying questions about people’s behaviors in situations one might otherwise take for granted. If I am going to do the observation next time, I would prepare a table to record the details and find a better place to sit so that I would not interrupt the users.

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