Sprint 4: User Research

by Anton Zheng

1. Observing and Identifying Common Practices Through Field Notes

Learning how to gather information by observing daily routines and interactions

This week I learned about the importance of conducting user research in the design process. In preparation for the deliverable this week, our studio divided the class into small groups and tasked us with creating field notes at different locations. My group was assigned the Suzzalo library cafe and we we’re given 15 minutes to draw or write the observations we saw around us.

My notes on the left and the common observations made by my group on the right

For this assignment I observed people on the 67 bus line at the 12th Ave NE & NE 65th St. stop.

Observations made on the Bus

Because I take this bus often to get home from campus, I took notes on two days. These notes provide a glimpse into the commuter’s daily routines and habits. Following the P4 approach taught in lecture, I focused on who used the bus, their practices, and the places they performed these practices. These notes were then compiled into a memo which narrowed down these observations into practices. Also the memo helped reveal design challenges observed while riding the bus.

2. Reflection on User Research

Thinking About the Effects of Personal Bias

While actively observing commuters on the bus, I noticed a lot of commuters were either on their phones or listening to music with their heads down. Commuters were often in their own worlds and did not interact with their surroundings unless needed. At first, I thought negatively of people who were so absorbed by their technology that they didn’t interact with their surroundings. I believed these commuters we’re retreating into their own worlds. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was my own personal bias. I started to empathize with the user, and realized that I didn’t know the full story. Maybe these commuters were students coming home from a long day of classes and studying. Maybe they were staring at a computer screen at work for hours and wanted some alone time. These are definitely experiences that I could relate and it made me realize the importance of recognizing your personal biases and empathizing with the user.

3. Looking Towards the Future

The Power of Observation

Sitting quietly and observing my surroundings was a refreshing experience because it made me realize how dependent we are on our mobile devices. I realized halfway through my observations that I also often exhibit this behavior. Smart phones give us a way to retreat into our own worlds and ignore our surroundings. This can be observed any time you go into a public space. While this is not good or bad, it made me realize how important it is for us to observe our surroundings. Especially as designers, observing our surroundings is an essential step to understanding our users. By taking notes, we can identify practices made by users. Furthermore we can find design challenges associated with these practices and start creating solutions to address these challenges. After all, when engineering solutions for users, the first step is identifying the problem.

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