04-User Research

1. WHAT:

I conducted a user research on the navigational properties, services, and user activities in a public site, specifically, the Seattle Ferry Terminal. I chose this particular location due to its relevant function (public ferry transportation) and because the terminal contains many varying commodities that presented plentiful useful data. It helped that the setting was not too loud to distract me from my observations and conveniently has chairs and tables for me to conduct the research more comfortably. Due to the well thought out placement of various services like the restaurant on the sides, the FARE window on the center of the room, and scattered self-service ticket machines, I managed to make sketches of the general area since I thought the placements of each services were worth noting. To get a better, real-life experience, I pretended like one of the passengers and sought to investigate and test out the services they offered myself. For example, I played around with the self-service ticket machines, got hungry and noted the convenience of vending machines and cafes/restaurants around me. The wait for the next ferry was pretty long so I also observed what the other passengers do during this time and found valuable information on why certain furniture like the sofas and chairs where designed the way they are to accommodate, for example, those who want to sleep during the waiting hour.

Self-service ticket machines

2. SO WHAT:

I thought the research was going to be more difficult, but the experience was made easy when I imagined myself standing in the user’s shoes. This way, I got a first-hand experience on how a typical, inexperienced user will interact with the surroundings or how they will go about riding the ferry if it was their first time in the terminal. This helped me determine user needs, possible design challenges or ways the current services can be improved based on the needs I personally experienced and the needs of the people I observed around me. The passengers, or users, I observed were diverse with varying ages and gender. It is also worth noting that I saw people with disabilities. For example, a man on a wheelchair and a blind man because he was led by a dog acting as his eyes. Upon observing them and how they interacted with the site, I acquired quite a bit of knowledge on why certain engineering aspects of the building like the flat floor were designed the way they were, including the addition of ramps and elevators for the disabled man to use in order to reach the terminal. What I liked the most about the research was the “pretense” part which made the whole experience a bit more entertaining, allowing me to interact with the surroundings, objects, and people with a keener awareness.

Elevators as one of the ways to get into the terminal

3. NOW WHAT:

The experience provided me with a more hands-on approach on user interaction. I learned how to be more aware of the services and the designs of the site I observed. Now, I can apply this to other public locations if I ever stumble upon researching again in the future. But the most important aspect I learned from this is distinguishing between making observations and making assumptions because what we often see, hear, etc. can be interpreted differently by other people. Thus, it emphasizes the importance of making inarguable observations to truly separate facts from personal biases or opinions. Yet, even assumptions can be a useful tool as long as we are keenly aware of these as “assumptions” only in order to make sense of the observations and understand the situation. Such awareness and the idea of separating observations and assumptions can very well be applied outside the realm of research like journalism and news media.