Studio Session #5: User Research
We focused on user research in this sprint activity. More specifically, our goal was to observe the practices found while riding on a public transit bus. Our most promising observations were translated into problems that we could solve to improve the transit experience.
Completing the Activity
Our in-class assignment was to take a practice run in the nearby Suzzalo library. I focused on observing practices in the nearby cafe. In order to cover as many practices as possible I focused on a particular person and described the specific task they were performing. The hard part of this assignment was not observing, but sorting out the mundane tasks such as picking out a scone from the tasks that could be improved upon, such as waiting in a crowd for your coffee. “Picking lunch” isn’t something a designer can help a user with, because it’s based on the user’s preferences. But a designer can move around sections of the cafe to give those waiting for drinks more space, or create a second line after checkout for users who are waiting.
Using this thought process I separated practices I observed on the bus into two categories, one in which the practice could be improved upon and one where the practice was mostly up to the user. One practice I decided to improve that I observed was a man taking up extra seats with his bag. Even when other people got on the bus he didn’t move it, and I thought I could improve upon this practice by finding a way to convince passengers that they should make room for others. After brainstorming several options, I settled on a simple solution. The signs aboard the bus that displayed the next stop and whether or not a stop was requested could also display a “Please make room for other passengers” message if the bus began to reach capacity.
I was surprised how easy it was to find practices while observing the public. I think I could have missed several interesting practices if I hadn’t been actively looking for them, but because I was I could pick up on strange behaviors or tendencies of the passengers. The experience has given me a greater appreciation for the user research field. I can definitely see how taking the time to sit down and observe practices can help you understand users better, and it’s a strategy I can see myself using when given the opportunity again.
An interesting question this session posed was: how can a researcher identify practices that need to be worked on before they can observe users? In other words, how could the owner of the library cafe find problematic practices before even opening his cafe? I think the answer to this is likely very undramatic. It just involves common sense planning. You wouldn’t place the pastry shelf next to the exit or people could shoplift, or you would spread out the placement of power outlets so users sitting at tables can charge their phones easily. However, observing a similar cafe could also reveal important practices to be improved upon before opening your own.
I could have affected my fellow passengers aboard the bus in a variety of ways without knowing. Looking back, it is possible that simply by keeping my head up and turning to look at other passengers those passengers felt more self-conscious and were less likely to act in their usual ways. Perhaps one passenger wanted to, as an example, smoke a cigarette. But by looking at him he felt peer pressure to not do something that was illegal- or at least rude. Being noticed like this could be a problem for some user researchers. For example, a researcher who is observing an outlet store would probably report very little shoplifting if they waited by the store entrance and watched for suspicious behavior. But by removing themselves from the situation (and not scaring off shoplifters) they might report a higher rate of theft by observing security cameras. This would be much more helpful to the shop owners, because the researcher could give them data that hadn’t been influenced by the researcher’s actions.