Tuesday, April 10, 2007

When Observing Users Is Not Enough: 10 Guidelines for Getting More Out of Users’ Verbal Comments

Getting the most out of user comments ...

"One of the principles underlying usability testing is that observing a user perform a task provides more reliable information than simply asking the user how easy it would be to perform the task. By observing users, you can assess whether they are actually able to use a product. By asking them, you simply cannot.

However, as you try to derive valid conclusions about how to design a user interface, relying only on—or even mostly on—observation can be

misleading—because often user behaviors that you observe can have many different interpretations. For example, if a user did not click a link, perhaps the user did not see the link or did not understand it. You cannot know the reason with certainty without asking the user. Your assumptions might be biased.
limiting—because you lose the opportunity to gather valuable verbal data by relying only on observational data.

While some usability professionals might claim that you cannot rely on what users say—and there are some risks in relying on users’ comments—there are means of avoiding or minimizing those risks. To understand these means, we must leave the realm of objective science and enter the realm of human relationships and empathy.

A user interview—including one that occurs during usability testing or user observation—is a relationship between two people—the interviewer and the interviewee—in which emotions, fears, and judgments come into play. Thus, my training and practice in psychotherapy have greatly enriched my technique in doing user interviews, because they have helped me avoid or minimize certain biases when eliciting and interpreting users’ verbal comments.

... To help you get more out of users’ verbal comments, this article will provide ten guidelines and various interviewing techniques I’ve learned from experience.
These techniques work best if they are used with genuine empathy for users. If users feel that you are not genuine—even if you are not aware of it or try to hide it—these techniques won’t work. I’ve described most of these techniques within the context of usability testing, but some techniques are also applicable to other user research activities—such as field studies and task analyses—and to stakeholder interviews."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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