User Research

Why do user research?

The very beginning to the human centered design process begins with locating a human with problem in their practice. Often this is done through the observation of people going about their normal practices. Recently I observed the practices of students at one of the more populated school libraries. I sat for over half an hour merely watching the people around me and quietly taking notes on the trends and patterns in their behaviors. After the on site observation I spent some time reviewing my notes, categorizing actions and identifying common practices. Finally I looked over the practices and tried to identify possible design potentials.

First page of initial field notes
Another page of initial field

Any interesting observations?

Reflecting on my observation, I realized that even though I visited the space nearly daily, I had never stopped to realize the multitude of practices and trends that were happening. This may show how different it is to be in a space rather than to observe people in a space. I also realized that if you observe a space for a while, there are a multitude of very good design opportunities that are overlooked by the vast number of people that interact with the space. People may have a problem with a practice that they do daily but they may never take the time to observe and design a better solution.

Methods of observation?

With the observations centered around humans and their tendencies, I began to realize I made observations in two main forms. Either generally, observing the overall atmosphere of the library and how that affected people, ore individually by focusing attention on a certain or a few certain individuals for a time and observing their interactions with the space. Afterwards I found that the most common practices were those that were observed in individuals and in the general trend of people. If I were to do this again I would definitely explore more ways in which to make observations.

Did you have to account for reflexivity?

For those that don’t know, reflexivity is the idea that the researcher can have an affect on the research by presenting an external force that alters the results or by bringing their own preconceptions to the research. As this was a space with practices that I was very familiar I did bring many of my prior experiences and expectations to the observation. I might have influenced my decision about the importance of a design potential because I have personal experience with the practice and would like to have a better solution for myself in the future. Researchers must be very aware of this issue during their research as they might alter their results and end up deciding on a design opportunity that is not the most relevant one to the majority of people that interact with the space.

Below is my summarized observations report

I decided to observe the first floor of Odegaard library during the middle of the day(3:30–4:20). This seemed like a good place and time to observe a large number of people in a relatively small location. The type of notes I took were mostly bullet points and short observations about the behavior of people and the general tendencies of people in the space. There were also a couple of concrete details such as a quote that I overheard, when someone said they were going to try to find a quiet place.

The three main practices that I observed in this space were studying, socializing, and looking for a place to sit. The people doing the practices are the same for all three practices, they are students. The practice of studying can be further broken down into different types of studying. Some people study alone, in a group, using a laptop or reading a book. There also seem to be groups of people at tables and standing or walking around that are just socializing. Often there is a group of people standing around or there are people waiting by the entrance and stairs waiting to meet someone. Additionally, there are often people using a cellphone or video chatting. These two practices interact with the space by creating different areas with different noise levels. It seems that the sections with the tables have a higher noise level than the area in the middle with the chairs and benches. The third practice is very to observe as almost everyone who walks in looks around for a place to sit or an open table. This might be only because I observed the location at a particularly busy time of day. Many students walk a circle around the first floor looking for a table before moving up to other floors.

The practice of looking for a place to sit and study seems interesting and could possibly lead to a design potential. The challenge could be designing a better system that reduces the time and the difficulty people have with finding a spot to sit. This could design challenge on the library or a challenge to better design the practices of students in order to find a spot sooner. A good step to take in order to research this practice further would be to interview people about their practice of finding a place to study.

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