Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Field Studies: The Best Tool to Discover User Needs

How field studies are used in the design process ...

"The most valuable asset of a successful design team is the information they have about their users. When teams have the right information, the job of designing a powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use interface becomes tremendously easier. When they don't, every little design decision becomes a struggle.

While techniques, such as focus groups, usability tests, and surveys, can lead to valuable insights, the most powerful tool in the toolbox is the 'field study'. Field studies get the team immersed in the environment of their users and allow them to observe critical details for which there is no other way of discovering.

Field Studies in Action
Over the years, we've conducted many field studies for our clients. In each study, we've learned amazing things about how people behave, giving us incredible insight into how we should design interfaces for use.

• We've watched people shopping in malls, giving us insight into how they manage shopping lists and purchase items on impulse. From this we've learned a lot to guide successful e-commerce designs.

• We've spent weeks sitting alongside system administrators, watching how they interact with software documentation as they solve problems and maintain systems. We garnered new perspectives on the roles of printed and online documentation, helping us understand the unique problems that each medium favors.

• We've followed paperwork through large manufacturing facilities, seeing who touched it and what they needed from it. From this, we learned the subtleties of the manufacturing information and how the seemingly minor actions of one person in the factory (such as leaving an 'unimportant' field blank) can have dramatic affects on the efficiency of other people later on. Seeing how people interacted with each other using the paperwork gave us a greater understanding of the intricacies of implementing enterprise-wide information systems.

While field studies are one of the most expensive techniques to implement, the value they return is tremendous. We've never come back from a study thinking we've wasted our time and resources. A quality 6-day study can produce enough information to keep a team busy for months."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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