Commuting User Research

User research, which is performed through various methods such as observation, survey, data collection and interview, is an essential step in Human Centered Design to find out user’s need, understand people’s behaviors, and realize the potential motivation for users to adopt the design. Though this process, the designer gets a much closer view about the usability issues and create improvement by designing new solutions. This week, our task was to accomplish a user research towards one particular commuting transportation system by using the method of making observation about people’s practices.

· What I Did

Chosen my investigating commuting method as the Link Light Rail, which is newly constructed in the Seattle and well-known for its quickness in transportation, I initiated a user research concerning the passenger’s experience during their journey and the level of user friendliness of the Link as a media of transportation. In order to get a close observation about the passengers’ practices, I travelled from the Husky Stadium Link Station to the Sea-Tac Airport Station and observed passengers inside the train. The one-hour journey gave me sufficient time to observe different peoples and find out common and noteworthy practices. In order to document the survey for future usage and analysis, I recorded the direct observation and my personal inference by jotting down the main points and commenting with personal thoughts in between.

During the journey, I found many interesting practices such as the placement of personal belonging practice, the multi-tasking combining checking location practice, and the electric devise using practice. For example, in the placement of personal belonging practice, I noticed that people always ignore the instruction sign of putting the bags underneath the seat, but would rather put small bags on the seat next to them and place suitcase in the middle of the aisle. This practice attracted my attention in the beginning mainly due to passengers had to get around the suitcases purposefully when pass through the aisle. Considering the reason for this practice, I inferred that it is possibly due to both safety and cleanness concern.

· Reflection

One of the major problem troubled me was the influence of “reflexivity” during the survey. According to its definition, reflexivity is the inevitable influence brought by the researcher during the research process. During my research, many factors might have influenced my result. For example, due to limitation on time, I was only allowed to conduct the research at a very early time during a weekday. During this time period, people commuting by taking link was much less than during peak time. The fact that the train is relatively empty might have influenced people’s behavior such as putting bag on empty seat. Consequently. the behavior I observed might disappear during crowded peak time, and if the placing of baggage still be a difficult task during that time remains uncertain.

Realizing the fact that my observation and inference might have be greatly influenced gave me a more objective view. I realized that in order for my conclusion to be more convincing, similar surveys should be conducted in differnet ways and times to avoid the influence brought by reflexivity.

· What’s Next

Through practice, I now understand that essential impacts brought by the the user-research is to let the designer get a closer view on the user and better understand their need. For example, the observation enabled me to found out about the troublesome placement of private belongings, which not only led to unnecessary waste of room, but also blocked the pathway in the train. These practices of the passengers proved that the current design for baggage placement is imperfect and not widely accepted. Understanding this problem promotes the designer to find better solutions and create a better design. Thus, in general, the user-research is the starting point of all design.

Another essential fact l learned from this research is that to be a designer, one has to pay attention in daily life and be considerate about others. Usually people consider designing as a job needed imagination and innovation, but from this research I realized that the attention of details and care for other, on the contrary, are the actual foundation for the human centered designing project. Only if the designer truly tries to understand the user and help facilitate their life, could they notice the things needed to be improved and generate great ideas.

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