HCDE 210: 06 Sprint — User Research

Our sixth studio was on February 8th and it was about user research. We went to different places to observe people doing practices. The key to this observation process is to look at who is doing what where and try to find out design potentials.
Discussing in groups in preparation for the presentations

1. What did you do?

An Observation Study

Presenting our findings
  • In the studio for practice, we went to different fields to conduct observation in groups for fifteen minutes and we jotted down some notes. Then we discussed our common and unexpected observations. We chose three practices from our field notes to describe and we chose one of the three practices as the one that had design potential. Finally, we presented our findings.
Common Observations (Left) & Unexpected Observations (Right)
  • For the sprint deliverable after the studio, we conducted user research individually in the same process as we did in the studio. This time we observed for at least thirty minutes instead of fifteen. We focused on commuting, which was a broadly defined activity, and we could choose the specific site to observe. I chose to observe on the Link light rail because it was where I could see a wide range of users, including students, office workers, bike riders, and the disabled. I took field notes in a bullet point style which clearly showed every distinct activity. Finally, I wrote a memo including explanations for three practices and one interesting practice of the three. The three practices that I chose were listening to music/looking at phones practice, taking a nap practice, and stretching out legs practice. I chose the third one as the most interesting practice because it was important to let passengers feel comfortable while sitting on the light rail.
Parts of my Memo (P. 1 to 3)
Parts of my Memo (P. 4 to 5)

2. Reflect on your experience.

I observed more than I could imagine of.

Disabled walkways at Othello Station

Before the observation study, I did not think I could observe much by just sitting on the one spot on the light rail because I thought all practices that people would do on the train were simply listening to music, looking at phones, and chatting. However, as time passed during my observation, I began to notice things that I did not pay attention to previously, such as benches at the platform of different stations were made of different materials and there were disabled walkways at Othello Station. I also observed unexpected practices, such as people stretching out their legs, which I identified as the most interesting practice.

What did you like about this project, and why?

It was interesting to observe unexpected practices in an environment that I was familiar with because it gave me a sense that there were many possibilities in our daily life. I also liked jotting, sketching, and taking photos while taking notes. I liked the observation study because it trained me to be an insightful person and because considering design potentials gave me a chance to practice my critical thinking skills.

3. How and where could you see applying this technique in the future? What kinds of projects do you think would lend themselves to this approach? What might not be appropriate for it?

User research has taught me that we could make the world better by carefully observing the surroundings. I believe user research is a common and useful technique that helps designers to find out design potentials and to make the world more human-centered.

In a scientific setting, I could see scientists applying observation study during experiments. For example, researchers would apply the observation technique if they want to know how children behave when playing with each other. In the field of human-centered design, user research is in common use. When they want to find out design potentials, user researchers would conduct observation studies and cooperate with professionals in different fields to accomplish the user-centered design.

I think projects like user-centered design would lend themselves to the approach of user research. Projects that require quick thinking such as charrette or ideation might not be appropriate for it since user research is kind of time-consuming and it requires a lot of deep analysis.