“It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as it were a nail.” What Maslow is pointing out so eloquently to us is that in research (as in life) there is no such thing as the right method for everything. On the contrary, there is a wide variety of methods. Some are well tried out and documented, others are more recent and experimental. This stage in your research (you established objectives and goals, you know what you know and what you don’t know and you have a hypothesis) boils down to one thing: to chose wisely.
Broadly speaking, most research methods fall into one of these two categories: explorative and evaluative, the first being the best methods to explore ideas, behaviour pattern, motivation and the second being the best method to evaluate your design. In the design process the explorative approach is mostly used in the beginning to find new ideas and solutions to problems and to study and understand your users. Evaluation on the other hand occurs during the development process once your product takes form and you want to test features, usability and design.
EXPLORE LIKE COLUMBUS
When Columbus set out for the Indies he had an idea, a goal, and a plan. It turned out that his idea of sailing West to reach the East Indies wasn’t 100% accurate, but he (re-)discovered a continent. When you start on a project there are no certainties. All you have are some ideas, a goal and a plan. In this stage you need to work on your understanding of the people you are designing for: who are they, what do they do, WHY and HOW do they do it. Your goal here is to spot behaviour patterns (habits, shortcuts, frustrations). You’re not interested in specific tasks or functions. You are focused on the user’s goals.
When you don’t have a good understanding of the people you are designing for you need to set sails and explore
There are two very good methods to achieve your goals: ethnographic research and contextual interviews. The main principle of ethnographic research is that by observing your user in his natural environment you will uncover information you could never get by simply asking a number of questions in an interview. Observation is key. Just as Columbus you need a plan when you go out there. Remember your research goals but keep your mind open enough to discover other continents. Look for the unexpected, the shortcuts, the habits. In this way you learn the how, the when, the where and the why your users do a certain thing. Ethnographic research is a method used in anthropology where the researcher goes to live with the community for longer periods of time. What s/he tries to do is to walk in their shoes and that’s what you want to do. You want to understand your user.
Look for the unexpected, the shortcuts, the habits. In this way you learn the how, the when, the where and the why your users do a certain thing.
A contextual interview is, as the name says a type of interview technique. The principle here is to conduct the interview in the context in which the behavior of interest occurs. In a typical contextual interview you will visit a home or a work place for a limited amount of time (one or two hours). You are interested in certain processes which the participant will demonstrate. In addition to watch the user do a certain task (streaming a movie, cooking dinner) you can ask a series of questions to get a better understanding. This lets you uncover the different activities a person engages when going through a process. Also here you need a plan, but not a very strict one. Contrary to other interview techniques, contextual interview don’t rely on a preset of structured questions. Like Columbus you have a few tools (research plan, objectives, hypothesis) to navigate. The rest will uncover along the way.
EVALUATE LIKE GALILEO
Contrary to popular belief not Galileo but Hans Lipperhey, a German spectacle maker invented the telescope. Galileo was the first to use a telescope for the purpose of astronomy in 1609 and he constructed his own version and refined it over time. It allowed him first to magnify things by 8, 20 and eventually 30 times. In 1990 the Hubble Telescope was carried into orbit. Its instruments observe near ultraviolet, visible and near infrared spectra. Now we could see far galaxies, black holes and super novas.
The process that eventually led to the Hubble Telescope is one of trial, evaluation and improvement.
Our design project might not change the course of history but the process stays the same. Our idea is taking form. We’ve identified the functionality or content that’s appropriate for a user and we created our first prototype. It is time to bring in the users. At this stage your focus will shift to more concrete questions about tasks, functions and structure. Can the user USE the product? Where does she gets stuck? What is unclear? During the development process you should incorporate several testing sessions. The more you test, the more possibilities for improvement you will have. As with Galileo and the telescope, first and foremost you have to make sure it fulfils its purpose. And you will test every new, refined version to make sure it still fulfils its purpose.
The more you test, the more possibilities for improvement you will have.
Usability testing is the best known method to evaluate your product. Most people who set up a usability tests construct a scenario wherein a person is asked to perform a set of tasks that someone would most likely perform when using the application or website for the first time (shopping a black trouser for a e-commerce site). You can also encourage the user to speak her mind (speak aloud protocol) while performing the tasks. You will immediately see wether the test participants are able to perform the task or not, where they have problems, and which parts are not well understood. Below is a list of questions usability testing can answer. Usability testing sessions are also a good moment to gain more insights on your users and what they think about the product. You can do this in written in form of a questionnaire or you can simply ask the questions and take notes. You can ask for feedback on the look and feel of the product, on the ease of use or if they were expecting something that was missing. On this page you can find a more detailed set of questions.
67 questions usability testing can answer:
- What are the major issues which will make this user leave our website?
- How do users respond to being forced to register or create an account?
- How long are users willing to spend on a particular process before they get bored/frustrated/consider leaving?
- How does our brand credibility affect user’s experience of our website?
- How do users respond to the tone of voice used in our product and editorial copy?
- Are users aware of our full product/service range?
- What are the reasons users would or wouldn’t engage with us through social media channels?
- How does our site compare to our competitors?
- Will users understand this new feature that we are currently developing?
- What do users think to this new feature we are considering developing?
- Are people using our website in the way it was concepted/designed?
- Are there any features & functionality which our website would benefit from?
- Can users complete key tasks with no un-answered questions?
- Are users able to locate key features & functionality that the site provides?
- Do users understand our primary and secondary navigation?
- Is there important information missing from our key pages?
- What do users make of our targeted landing pages?
- Does our search facility meet user expectations?
- Are users able to use our page control features easily?
- Are we providing the right level of product information detail?
- Do we provide suitable tools for which users can compare products & specifications?
- How do users respond to our cross sell and up-sell promotions?
- Do our primary USP’s get seen by all users, irrespective of where they go on the website
- Do we make our full proposition transparent to users?
- Does our page load speed cause any issues with the users site experience?
- At what stages do users exhibit anxiety during a user journey i.e. application, checkout, sign-up, booking, reservation
- Are users able to locate the button/action we want them to do on key pages?
- What issues do users have when completing our web forms?
- What flexibility do users expect to have at specific parts of their user journey?
- What exactly is stopping users from doing what we want them to?
- How can we make our website experience more intelligent to speed up how users interact with us online?
And read on for day 6 here: Write your research plan