User Research

To practice user research, I was assigned to go to a location and observe people and identify their practices for 30 minutes. After this observing time, I was tasked with writing a memo about what I observed, what practices I thought were interesting or relevant, and how I could investigate further in those practices. The location I chose to observe for this task is a food market — Haggen. I sat in the Haggen food court area — near the middle so I could see what is going on in all areas. This seated dining area is located by the deli section and had a few small, convenient checkout aisles, and a long counter furnished with a soda machine, microwave, silverware dispensers, etc. Some main practices I observed were the using a microwave practice, using disposable chopsticks practice, and scanning products practice.

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I was surprised that this task wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. Before I started, I had stated that I was concerned about not being able to pay attention for the whole time and to seem creepy to other people. Paying attention was not a big problem at all — in fact, I was surprised when the 30 minutes was up. Writing down my observations really let the time pass. In the future I would spend less time being concerned prior to the task. Maybe next time I’ll get up and walk around, and see what kinds of things I could have been missing! Perhaps people will alter their practices when they see me walk near, knowing that they are possibly being watched. I could also ask the people questions to know what they are thinking while doing the practice I am observing.

How comfortable did I feel while doing this?

At first it wasn’t so bad. People did not seem to notice me watching them as they were preoccupied with their own tasks. There were a few awkward situations that arose however. For instance, when I was observing some teenagers with their using chopsticks practice, they saw that I was watching them struggle with using the chopsticks, and probably thought I was judging them. But overall, people-watching is actually kind of fun.

Reflexivity can have a big cause-and-effect relationship between the researcher and the results of the research and could potentially lead to bias. A reflexivity example I can think of while I was doing my research was that I was looking specifically for problems. A thing I could improve on is just writing observations — not observing the problems — and then reflecting on those observations and developing solutions to potential problems through there. I would get to know what practices go on in the area more and see if they influence each other, which could cause a problem together. A reflexivity issue that could go a long way in any user research is if the person being observed is aware that they are being watched. People may change their behavior to avoid being embarrassed or judged when they are aware of being watched (known as the Hawthorne effect). Any unintended bias or actions can also influence a person’s behavior. It is always important to be careful of these things.

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