Reading Materials Covered: Cooper Chapter 4 & UxBook Chapter 3
Qualitative user research is one of user centered design methods. In this week’s class, Dr. V. helped us clearly sort out the differences and relations among all kinds of methods. These research methods include qualitative user research, cognitive walk-throughs, usability inspection, usability testing, think-aloud, website experience analysis and so on. We can’t use the full set of methods on every project, but multiple research methods will give us good combining insights. Therefore, the key question is what it is, when to use it and how to use it. Based on Cooper Chapter 4 and UxBook Chapter 3, I answered these basic questions to better understand qualitative user research.
What are the goals of user research?
The first and most important goal for user research is to understand users’ goals and motivations. Qualitative user research helps us identity patterns of behaviors, attitudes and aptitudes among users. It is very important to know how users perform when interacting with the system. What they say, what they think what they do. Instead of asking users what they need, we just observe and interview users in their own work context and examine their needs.
The second goal, I think, is to understand the context of the product. As Cooper mentioned, we need to know the technical, business, and environmental contexts — the domain— of the product to be designed. Contextual inquiry requires gathering field data from users, not interviewing users in a conference room or café shop, but in their normal work environment. Notice details of behaviors and take notes.
Finding mental model of users is another goal for qualitative user research. How do users think about the activity and system would be? What is commonly believed with the product? Furthermore, potential problems and frustrations with current products or analogous system should be considered too.
What are some available tools (research methods) for conducting user research?
These available tools include:
- Contextual inquiry: Focus on users’ goals. Interview users where the interaction happens and encourage storytelling. Collect data from observation and interview.
- Interviews: Stakeholder interviews, subject matter expert (SME) interviews, user and customer interviews, user observation/ethnographic field studies, literature review, product/prototype and competitive audits
- Focus groups: Select representative users and gather them together in a room to ask a structured set of questions. Because the data is not collected in the work domain, the method has many pitfalls.
- Task analysis: Cooper uses several graphs to illustrate the method. The book says that task analysis refers to a number of techniques that involve using either questionnaires or open-ended interviews to develop a detailed understanding of how people currently perform specific tasks. In my opinion, task analysis is a very useful tool to define what users are doing and should be doing in order to accomplish the results. Paying attention to observable processes and behaviors, we can make better recommendations for our system.
What kinds of data can we collect? What counts as data?
The contextual data include task data (raw user work activity data), recording video or audio, manual paper notes, rod artifacts, copious digital pictures, on-the –fly diagrams of workflow and sketches of layout, quantitative data, etc.
Our raw data describe a wide variety of topics. We must apply contextual analysis to extract the most important points and synthesize work activity notes. Then we can identity underlying themes about our work domains. In UxBook Chapter 4, the author articulates contextual analysis very specifically.
What are some big mistakes (pitfalls) to avoid when conducting user research?
Cooper says that when conducting contextual inquiry, we should avoid a fixed set of questions, avoid making the user a designer, avoid discussions of technology and avoid leading questions. Because the work practice may be biased with our own assumptions, we should not ask a question by trying to state what we think is their rationale. Each user has different perspective of how the domain functions. Remember, this is user-centered design. Get access to key users and discover what user cannot tell you.