User Research Process

For my user research session I went to a local Jimmy John’s and observed customers and the way they interacted with the space. Our weekly studio gave us practice on how to take objective unbiased observations of the repeated practices people carry out in everyday life. Using this knowledge, I spent thirty minutes with my field notes jotting down common practices that occurred inside of Jimmy John’s. I compiled my notes into a final writeup submitted on UW Canvas.

My table organizing our observation notes.
My group presenting in studio what we observed of people on campus.

Something to focus on when taking observations is remaining unbiased. I had to remind myself to write down simply what was happening, not what I inferred or assumed subjects were doing from their actions. This took some getting used to, but I feel it is vital for taking good observations. For example, when I saw a man eating in Jimmy John’s with his headphones on I assumed he was listening to music and eating. But, obviously, that is my own inference. All I should really be noting is that this person had headphones in and his phone on the table. He could have been doing anything: listening to a podcast, watching some form of media, checking voicemail, etc. Future actions to take when observing subjects is to remain objective and accurate to what my eyes are seeing. Inferences are helpful later on when making design considerations, but they have no place in the observation making process.

What fields could use effective user research the most?

My initial reaction to this question is the medical field would benefit greatly from effective user research. Ensuring doctors and patients alike can successfully interact with operating room equipment and medical technology could determine whether someone lives or dies. Other areas, however, benefit from user research in less serious ways. Businesses can utilize user research to maximize profit. Information technology can adopt successful designs from effective user research. It seems user research is beneficial in just about any field.

Reflexivity is important to acknowledge when conducting user research. As I have noted above, the researcher can unknowingly bring a host of inferences and expectations to his or her study. For my study in Jimmy John’s, I brought my previous restaurant experience to my observations. For example, one practice I observed was the practice of ordering off of a menu. I instantly recognized customers doing this because I had done this myself countless times in life. This led me to be extra quick to declare processes and observations due to my previous experience. This is not great, however, because it introduces the possibility to miss something or misinterpret behavior.

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