User Research

Here is a page from my jottings which included a quick sketch of a person on a treadmill that I observed.
Pictured is another page of my jottings in which I included multiple exclamation points next to an observation that I had already seen multiple times.

The Process

I decided to perform user research at the University Family YMCA in the cardio machine room. This is a location that I frequent and it is always full of people using equipment, so I thought it would be interesting to observe the way in which users interact with the equipment. I jotted down everything that I observed in my yellow notebook in a bulleted format and included a sketch as well (pictured above). This sketch helped me to illustrate the seemingly insufficient length of headphones as the gym-goers worked out (I was not allowed to take photographs in the gym). I jotted down things such as the number of people in the room, the machines they were using, and common activities between them. For instance, everyone except one individual was listening to something from their phone with headphones in. I found three common practices which included: wiping down machines, reading on the treadmill, and using phones while exercising. The one practice I found most interesting was phone use that lead to people’s phones falling off their machines on multiple occasions (pictured above). I saw a design challenge here and wondered, “is there a way to better design exercise equipment or headphones to allow for easier use of phones while exercising?” Due to the fact that almost everyone was using their phones in the facility, I saw this as a beneficial design challenge to think about.


I found observing users in my gym to be interesting as I usually do not think about my surroundings and the actions of others while I am working out. Some challenges I faced while jotting my observations included trying not to add prescriptions or judgment. My thoughts usually jumped immediately to how I would design something to keep user’s phones from falling off their machine instead of just observing and gathering data. I had to refrain from adding too much judgment or bias in my jottings as well. At one point I was irritated with a gym-goer that did not bother to wipe down their machine before leaving. I tried to add phrases like “seems like” or “appears to” so that I would not be jumping to any conclusions about what I was observing. In the future, I would like to improve my observation skills by not thinking about prescriptions to a design challenge right away and focus on jotting down clear and unbiased observations.

Now What

User research is a critical practice for improving current designs and creating more beneficial designs in the future. An amusement park wanting to improve the efficiency of their ride lines could benefit from user research, for instance. Thorough observations could be jotted of how many people wait in line at certain times or their apparent attitudes. This could indicate to the designers a specific design challenge that could improve the customers experience to shorten line waiting time. User research may not be appropriate in cases where there are large groups of users to observe and common practices may be hard to determine when compared to such large numbers of people. For example, trying to observe the way people maneuver through the stands in a baseball stadium may be difficult and you may find too many common practices to create a significant design challenge.