Thursday, June 07, 2007

Field Research Fundamentals: An Interview with Kate Gomoll

On field research and usability ...

"Kate Gomoll is a recognized expert in the area of Field Research and Usability Testing. UIE's Ashley McKee recently had the opportunity to talk with Kate about how she and her team at Gomoll Research & Design conduct field studies. Here is what Kate had to say about her experiences

UIE: Many of our clients say they stay away from conducting field research projects because they are too expensive and time-consuming to implement. Why should designers invest the time and resources in field studies?

Kate Gomoll: Nothing replaces the power of direct observation. Designers can gain so much information from watching people in their actual work environment and capturing a user's unarticulated needs. The work we conduct takes place in the participant's environment — such as home, work, stores, banks, and hospitals. Our findings are based on realities, not preconceptions. As a result, design teams can get much closer to their customers. Users will “show and tell” them things they would incorrectly consider unimportant in a focus group, interview, or usability test.

Also, in our experience, what people say rarely matches what they do. People don't remember the steps of a process, especially if it's something they do all the time. They may tell you something is easy, but when you actually observe users doing that task in a field study, you can see all the problems and inefficiencies they didn't recall or couldn't articulate.

Performing a field study for every project that comes along in an organization is not always possible, or even practical. What factors should design teams consider when deciding which projects would benefit most from field research?

If you're designing a new product, it's definitely a good idea to do some field research. You may think you can't study people because your product idea is so new and innovative, but it really pays to observe and interview people who are doing things the old-fashioned way before you forge ahead and change things. You may discover that you're solving the wrong problem, or that there are parts of the old way of doing things that work pretty well — so you should hang on to them.

Also, if you're doing a major re-design of an existing product, it's probably a good idea to freshen up your understanding of the users. Chances are, they have some frustrations with the current product, and you may have a stale understanding of how they're actually using it."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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