User Research — Observational Study

King County Transit — NE Pacific St and Montlake Blvd NE (SE Bound)

Eastward view down the bus stop. Image includes the side of a shelter(middle) and the digital ETA signage(top)

“How does a disable-bodied person navigate a bus stop?”

This week, I was tasked with writing an observational report on the commuter experience and practices in a specific environment. Considering last week’s assignment from the Mayor — ideation upon public accessibility for disabled commuters—I chose to observe the bus stop located outside of UW Medicine on NE Pacific St and Montlake Blvd NE.

The user research study was a non-interference observational study for an hour during afternoon rush-hour. The type of notes were determined beforehand and informed by the self-generated question,

“How does a disable-bodied person navigate a bus stop compared to an able-bodied person?”

And so, I took notes upon all individuals at every process of interacting with the bus stop and busses with a focus on spatial arrangement, movement, activation, and consumption. The resulting report included my designed method, three practices that were noteworthy, and an exceptional practice that warranted further research.

Observational notes upon crowd circulation

Personal Takeaway

This user research activity helped me realize the potential for observational study to become ubiquitous with my everyday experience. Firstly, the task was enjoyable, I have always enjoyed “people watching” and observing unique habits of others. However, the added necessity of paying more attention to mundane activities enabled an even more fruitful experience in broadening my empathy and my understanding of nuances in quotidian experiences.

An Extended Takeaway

Enabled by how enjoyable this was, I foresee a new potential for me to embed this activity during my downtime and commuting times. Actively observing details of public interactions could create an inherit knowledge and intuition to when I approach user experience interactions in the future.

In addition to utilizing this method of observation in my everyday, I see the potential in using this observational study in dissecting interactions that are very habitual to myself. For example, I wash dishes everyday and have a very specific method of organizing my clean and dirty dishes to not waste water and time. However, if I were to observe others washing dishes in the same method as this user research study, I might discover that my assumptions of how to clean dishes are, in fact, not “normal”. With reframing my actions as “non-normal”, the use of this observational study method would enable a more acute understanding of how others interact with their environment.

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