Process Blog: User Research

Students reporting their observations

This week, we focused on the User Research, specifically observation. During the User Research, we concentrated on the relationship among people, places, practices and observed the interaction between people and things. For this specific assignment, we were conducting a User Research on commuting. I chose buses as the subject for my user research. Therefore, last Saturday, I went to a bus stop and stayed there, carefully observing for 30 minutes. After that, I boarded a bus to observe riders. My goal was to jot down as many observations as possible by using different forms of recording, such as taking notes, sketching, watching, and listening. By closely observing what people did in places and how they interact with things around them in the bus stop, I tried to understand their behaviors as well as looked for pain points during their experience in order to improve and support their practices. For example, I wrote down notes like “all people are on their phone while waiting the bus”, “ one girl asks another if she knows when the bus will come. The other girl answers she has no idea.” etc.. From the notes there is already one practice that could be possibly improved, which is more obvious sign or notice for the bus time schedule.

Students discussing their observations

One of the challenges I have experienced during my observation was that I found it hard to only watch and report what I had seen, without further analyzing or adding in my personal emotion. For example, during my observation, I saw a woman constantly watching her phone. Therefore, I wrote down in my notebook, “ a woman checks the time on her phone multiple times to see when the bus should come.” However I had added several interpretations in this one simple sentence: first, how could I be sure that the woman was checking the time on her phone instead of a text message? Second, how could I be certain that she was waiting for the bus to come instead of waiting for a friends right next to the bus stop? As soon as I realized that I was actually interpreting what that person was doing, instead of purely watching and reporting, I immediately adjusted my notes to “a woman checks her phone multiple times next to the bus stop.” In fact, right before I left the bus stop, I saw that the woman did not get on a bus but went to the Ave with another person. This little incident reminded me of the potential consequences of unconscious interpretation during the observation, and the importance of only writing down what I have seen; if I hadn’t seen the woman leaving with a friend, I would draw a false conclusion that the woman was waiting for the bus. As Jiddu Krisishamurti says, “Observation without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence.” In the future User Research activities, I will definitely keep in mind not to add my expectation and interpretation into my notes during observation.


User research, specially observation is a great technique that can be applied in the human related design, including user-centered design, interaction design, and industrial design, etc.. By carefully and closely observing the natural interaction between people and product, researchers can have a better understanding of the usability of a product. For example, I had used observation method during the usability testing on microwave. By carefully looking and taking notes at how participants interacted with the microwave, what problems they were encountering, such as people having difficulties on recognizing certain button’s function, I had discovered the pain points. Therefore, after the observational data has been collected, I came up with a list of things that could be further developed or changed in the future, in order to improve user experience. Just naturally observing people, places, and their practices, User Research, a technique that could be used in almost everywhere, is a helpful way of understanding people’s behaviors, motivations, and needs.

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