In the field of UX design research, we’ve borrowed and adapted many research methods from anthropology to enable us to better understand people and their needs. But we haven’t adopted one signature method of anthropology: participant observation. When we go into the field to observe people performing tasks, we remain outside observers, asking questions and taking notes, but not getting involved in their activities ourselves.
Anthropologists and sociologists often practice participant observation, in which they join a group as a participating member to get a first-hand perspective of the group and their activities. Instead of observing as an outsider, they play two roles at once—objective observer and subjective participant. Participating in the group gives them the ability to experience events in the same way other group members experience them. These are the types of studies that probably come to mind when you think about anthropology or sociology—for example, an anthropologist goes to live with a tribe in the Amazon rainforest or a sociologist moves into a housing project to learn about poverty. These are participant observation studies. Read More
User research consists of two core activities: observing and interviewing. Since we’re most interested in people’s behavior, observing is the most important of these activities because it provides the most accurate information about people, their tasks, and their needs.
While interviewing is also very important, the information people provide during interviews isn’t always accurate or reliable. Often, research participants don’t know why they do things, what they really need, what they might do in the future, or how a design could be improved. To really understand what people do, you can’t just ask them, you have to observe them.
But exactly what is observation, and what does it entail? Though we all know what the word observation means and everyone knows how to look and listen, there is more to it than just pointing your eyes in a particular direction, listening, and taking notes. By doing a little research, I found many books and articles about interviewing, but surprisingly few about how to observe research participants. So, in this column, I’ll first explore what observation is and the different types of observation methods, then focus on one particularly useful, yet underused UX research method: naturalistic observation. Read More
We’ve all read monotonous reports and struggled to remain awake during boring presentations, but must all deliverables be interminably dull? Conveying user research findings so people can understand them, believe them, and know how to act on your recommendations can be challenging. And providing enough detail without boring your audience is a difficult balance. But there are some best practices in communicating user research findings that can make them more effective—and even entertaining. Read More