Second in a series of however many we end up with!
Coming towards the end of the series is a look at how we are having to move beyond mere 'usability' in to Total Experience Design, and also discussion of how UCD as an underlying discipline is driving innovation. But that's all just to keep you subscribed if you think you've got a handle on the basics! On to...
Techniques: Research, in 500 words or less.
User-centred design relies on understanding users. It means you have to not only observe how they behave but you also have to understand motivations. i.e. why they behave like that.
So unsurprisingly, we start any UCD process with research. We will absorb any pre-existing research, be it market research, segmentation analysis, etc. Then we will go on to look at existing behaviours, using data analysis of websites for example.
But the real value comes from understanding them through ethnographic techniques. Common ones we use:
- ‘Depths’ – simply sitting and talking with someone one on one. Asking them the questions like ‘why’, ‘what if’ and ask them to describe the way in which they go about certain tasks or activities.
- Guerilla Ethnography – this is an observational technique and is commonly done without any explicit permission from the people being studied (unless we are video-recording them in which case we have to get permission). So, for example, when we designed check-in kiosks for BMI and Virgin Atlantic, we literally hung around the airport terminal watching and listening to how people went about the process in its current form. You have to be careful here that you don’t get arrested for stalking, or worse still if you’re in the airport!
- Contextual analysis – posh words, but broadly it means observing people in their own ‘context’. This can be mixed up with other techniques, so a depth for example could be done at someone’s desk or home rather than an interview room. It also involves elements of watching what they do rather than simply getting them to tell you.
We also do quantitative analysis, but more rarely. This involves a wider sample size, and the asking of questions, often with restricted sets of answers. This is the type of research that our clients most often commission before we get involved in projects. What this does is give us statistically significant indications of intent from consumers. This is useful, as it gives us clues as to where to start our more qualitative techniques outlined above. Usually, this involves looking at the statistically significant trends in the quant research and asking the question "Why?" i.e. trying to understand why consumers behave like this.
What this research does is allow us to make observations. Some of these will later turn out to be significant in shaping design, and others not.
What research also allows us to do is provide evidence for why we make design decisions, because we can bactrack to the point of origin at any point, it allows us to make clear, rational decisions, based on evidence rather than anecdotes or subjective opinion.
The next step is to absorb all this stuff and start making it useful for the team. i.e. to pull out the potentially useful observations. The way we do this is using Personas to crystallise the salient points of research into a realistic, challenging and recognisable profile of a target customer or user. More on this soon...