User Research

Highlighting design opportunities based on commuter observations

This past week, I conducted user research, specifically observation, at a popular commuting site to highlight potential design possibilities . I performed these observations at a bus stop — I felt that the possibility to improve public transit could lead to a more green and less polluted environment, by enticing commuters to leave their vehicles at home. Bussing, moreover, is a favored means of travel, so I would have no shortage of travelers to observe.

(Image via: https://www.123rf.com/photo_52771658_latecomer-woman-running-along-the-sidewalk-to-reach-the-bus-on-the-background-of-bus-stop-with-skysc.html)

On site at the stop (on 15th and 43rd), I camped out for just over thirty minutes. With my little yellow notebook in tow, I jotted down any and everything I witnessed — namely, who the commuters were, what they were practicing, and where they were practicing those practices. My notes comprised of only two sketches and a plethora of bullet points; I found drawings to be less informative and more time-consuming than strictly text, so I greatly favored the latter.

Practicing observations with a team in studio

Following my user research expedition, I highlighted three practices that were both extremely common and could lead to, (in my opinion), potential transit renovations. These practices were: periodically glancing up from phone screens, running to catch an already departing bus, and leaving the stop without ever boarding a bus. Of these three, I decided the second was most worth further investigation. From this practice, a design challenge could ensue — how might we design a mechanism for passengers to alert the driver that they are approaching?

Jottings from the appendix of my observations

Looking up — The perks of this project

What I enjoyed most about practicing user research was undoubtedly the justification it gave me to simply look up. Of all the commuters I observed, almost all of them spent their time at the bus stop with their eyes glued to their cellphones — and usually, I am no exception. In the whirlwind of technology that is today’s reality, our tiny two by four screens are often what consume our time. It was fascinating to put my phone in my pocket and witness the behaviors and practices that I personally do, or don’t, have in common with complete strangers.

The applications and limitations of user research in the future

Like ideation, the applications of user research seem essentially limitless. For products like desk chairs, platforms like VSCO, and websites like Facebook, it is crucial for designers to know how easily and efficiently users can interact with the commodity in question. Without understanding user needs and behaviors and making appropriate accommodations, these goods are unlikely to succeed in the marketplace or on the webspace.

As an avid user of the VSCO mobile app, for example, I frequently have frustrations with the constantly changing interface. It is my ambition to one day work as a UX Designer for VSCO, and stabilize the design — doing so will only be effective by conducting user research. Moreover, my siblings and I are in the process of ideating a design for a refugee support mobile app. To ensure our product is useful and compelling, we will need to research how our potential users behave, and focus on a potential for beneficence.

With that in mind, there are only few limitations to applying user research in the future. Objects that encompass little human interaction, such as carpet squares or lampposts, wouldn’t necessarily benefit from the, often timely, process. And though user research may sometimes seem daunting or lengthy, it can only reap rewards for a design.

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