(5) HCDE 210 User Research

My Experience with User Research:

This week, I experimented with user research in order to observe practices that people performed while waiting at a bus stop.

User research (noun)- identifying and observing how people interact with places through practices
Practices (noun)- routines consisting of a number of interconnected and inseparable elements: physical and mental activities of human bodies, the material environment, artifacts and their use, contexts, and human capabilities/affinities/motivation

The bus stop I picked was Stevens Way & Benton Lane because I’ve noticed that people are always waiting for buses when I pass by. I sat on a bench about 10 feet away from the bus stop so that I could disguise my intentions, but also so that I could ensure that I wasn’t too far away, which could obstruct my observations. Also, I considered how my proximity to the research subjects might cause them to act differently, which could influence the validity of my observations. For the next 30 minutes, I observed quietly and jotted down any practices that people exhibited in my notebook. In addition to bulleted information, I included sketches of what I saw so that I would have a concrete representation to refer to later, if necessary. I also included labels for my sketches so that I would know what I was trying to sketch.

Examples of my jottings. Jottings shouldn’t include any conclusions or predictions, just objective observations. Also, pictures can help recreate what you see so that you can reimagine it later when you’re going over your notes.

The specific time frame ensured that I was exposed to more than just a few practices. During that time, 5 different buses approached the bus stop, so I was able to observe 5 different cycles of people. While there were certain similarities between the groups, there were also differences. In one cycle, nobody sat down. In another cycle, people only sat down. This diversity is important to capture in order to find a solution that best fits everyone. If we only observe certain practices and are blind to other practices, then we limit our vision and our abilities to fix the problem. Because people are different in terms of traits, motivations, and feelings, how one person acts in one situation can be extremely different from how another person acts in the same situation. For that reason, we observe, record, and adjust our conclusions to find more encapsulating solutions.

Reflecting on my User Research Experience:

My favorite part of this experience was how relaxing it was to sit down and take in all the moving life around me. Usually, I don’t pay that much attention to other people as I wait for the bus, so it was interesting to observe how other people wait at the bus stop in terms of attitude, posture, and common practices. Also, as I was taking notes, I noticed a lot of little details that I probably wouldn’t have caught if I hadn’t been paying as much attention as I was. As a result, I felt more deeply connected with people who were waiting for the bus, making me realize how authentic life is and how each person has their own thoughts and reasons for how they live their lives.

Looking Toward the Future:

Because user research allows designers to thoroughly examine every aspect of whatever problem they are trying to solve, it is a great way to compile a lot of data on a targeted topic. I could see it being used in projects where the designers are aware that some sort of issue is occurring, but need to pinpoint exactly what is causing that problem and how to address it. One example of this may be scientists who survey a portion of a habitat to determine if anything is affecting the species that live there. However, I don’t think it would work well for a project that isn’t user centered. Because user research heavily focuses on how people interact with things and their environment, it would be unnecessary to do all that work if it didn’t make an impact on how the product is designed. Also, I don’t think this would be a good process for a project that is almost completed. Unless (in the rare occasion), the designers find that human practices relevant to their design have drastically changed, it wouldn’t be unwise to start all over again instead of just releasing a product that may still be helpful to some.