User Research

The first page of my jottings from Westlake Station


This week, we focused on user research in the form of observation. Our goal was to observe different practices people follow in regards to commuting, in order to realize a design challenge. I decided to observe people at Westlake Station, because it is one of the busiest stations in Seattle, so I could observe a great amount of people. This station is a major stop for the light link rail, as well as many bus lines, and is located in the heart of downtown Seattle, between Pike and Pine. I wanted to observe how people interact with the transportation systems and each other when commuting in a busy location such as Westlake Station. I decided to conduct my observations after class from around 4:30 to 5:30 pm on a Monday to observe the rush hour. To record my observations, I jotted down my notes in my sketchbook. I mostly used short bullet points to quickly capture actions that I saw, so that I had more time to look around instead of writing long sentences. I also drew a couple of figure gestures of people to capture their body language and how they were interacting with the space. During my observations, a security guard unexpectedly approached me and inquired about what I was doing. After explaining to him that I was conducting observation-based user research, he divulged that he often observed a practice that frustrated him. This practice was clustering in front of the Light Link car doors while others had to maneuver around the crowd, trying to exit. Throughout the course of my research, I also observed this practice very often. This practice possibly causes an unnecessary delay in the time the light link spends at the station, and could also cause an inconvenience, or perhaps even injury, to those trying to exit the car. A design challenge that stems from this problematic practice is how commuters entering the light link car could be prevented from blocking the path of exit, in order to make rider exchanges safer, easier, and faster.

Page four of my jottings from Westlake Station


I enjoyed this project because I could really take time to observe and reflect on my surroundings, and take time to notice things that I normally wouldn’t. I also really liked the unexpected aspect of engaging with the transit security officer, because I was able to receive valuable insight that caused me to take my research to heart. Talking to him about the observable problems of the public transportation system made this project seem a lot more real to me. Meeting and talking to one of the stakeholders in efficient and safe public transport legitimized the problem, and motivated me to think of design challenges. After this project, I feel attached to the problems of public transport, and hopefully I can continue my research on this topic, and maybe come up with some solutions.

In the Future

User research lies at the heart of Human-Centered Design Engineering. Learning about the user is an extremely important process that deeply informs the design process. Because what we strive to design is user-centered, learning about the user’s wants, needs, and regular practices to identify design challenges is imperative. I can see myself using observation as a technique of user research again for practically all of my future projects, since I will always strive to design based on the user. This technique lends itself well to the earliest stages of a project, because it gives a good overview of how the user interacts with things in a specific space. However, simply observing users’ actions could possibly be interpreted very differently by different researchers. As such, it is important to follow-up observation with direct interaction with the users, such as through a survey. This way, data can be also be informed directly by the user’s thoughts.