Portrait of smiling senior man using laptop on porch

Addicted to user research

I was recently invited to a business meal and as I found my place and settled down, I waited with happy anticipation for the others to arrive on my table. A quick look at the name cards told me that my direct table mates to my right and left were both males and judging from a quick look round the room they were going to be middle aged or older.

The gentleman to my right was the first to arrive, let’s imagine he was called John. John funnily enough did turn out to be middle aged but he was very clued up on technology, having run a social media agency in his past. He was a very interesting character, having previously worked in PR for celebrities and lived a rather extravagant life.

David

To my left was an older gentleman, let’s call him David. The curious researcher inside me lit up when I clocked David. Most of our clients want research with millennials, so although we do research with older people, it’s not that often. Yet I find talking to older people quite fascinating. They’re generally quite good at reflecting on their behaviour, on why they do what they do and it’s so enjoyable to listen to.

David was an intelligent gentleman. He’d had an incredibly successful career and worked in top positions in very high profile high street brands.  As I asked him about the technology he used and how he shops, I found myself entering research mode, engaging in a very interesting conversation about his shopping preferences and how they change depending on the type of product.

David and technology

I was curious as to the devices David owned. I was fairly surprised to hear that he owned a Macbook. Apple is a brand we generally associate with the younger audience, however, David was incredibly enthusiastic about his experience so far. When I questioned his choice, he immediately stated ‘ease of use’ as the key reason and that ‘it just works’. He told me all about the problems he used to have with Windows computers and how in comparison, his Mac was just so simple to use.

Do you think David had a tablet? Well, yes he did have a tablet. Knowing that many of the older generation are given hand me downs from sons/daughters, especially to communicate, when he told me that he used his tablet to communicate with his son and grandchildren in another country, I was quick to enquire how he had become the owner of an iPad – was it his love of Apple having an influence or was it indeed a hand me down? It turned out to be a hand me down from his son so they could keep in touch.

When it came to his mobile device, David was, I’d say, very typical of his generation. At this point he pulled out a mobile from his pocket that most young people would probably not even recognise and think belonged in a museum. It was an old, very worn, Nokia phone, with just a 0-9 keypad and a non-touch screen. Having a long mobile history myself (I used to work at Sony Ericsson on smartphones and turned down a job at Nokia) I just had to take a photo! I was quite overjoyed to see this relic still in use. He clearly still cared for it too, as he’d kept the plastic cover on the screen (see pic below).

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David explained that he had absolutely no need for one of these new types of phones. Everything he felt he needed a phone for he could do using his old Nokia. It was interesting but not surprising that although David had the latest computer and tablet tech, he had no interest in updating his phone. Ease of use was very important to him. For David, his Macbook made his life easier. His tablet made communication with his family easier. They had clear benefits. However, he saw his old Nokia, with it’s limited features as the simplest mobile for him. A smartphone with it’s array of features was perceived as a hindrance.

How does David shop?

When it came to shopping, David was more than happy to shop online using his Macbook. He was very satisfied with the convenience of shopping from the comfort of his home. However, I suspected there would be exceptions to this generalisation and when I explored more deeply, it was clear that David had different rules for different types of products and services that he purchased. There were some physical products that David insisted you needed to shop in person for. There was a clear theme throughout the examples he gave and that was products that have strong sensory qualities, particularly tactile qualities. One example David talked about was shoes because ‘you need to try them on to see what they’ll feel like’.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed speaking with David about his use of technology and how he shops. The older generation are often under-represented within businesses yet they’re an important consumer base to consider. It’s important to remember that as time progresses they are changing as consumers. They’re becoming more comfortable with technology, they’re owning the latest devices thanks to influence and hand me downs from their children, they’re seeing the benefits that technology can give them and with their children all grown up, they have plenty of disposable cash. But they’re clever shoppers. They want to know what they’re buying is the best for them and that it’s easy for them to use.

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Improving your research validity

Research validity is incredibly important, without it you risk biasing and even invalidating your research efforts.

Good validity = good research

What is research validity?

Validity refers to the quality of research. In short, the rigor or trustworthiness. Joppe (2000) provides the following explanation of validity:

“Validity determines whether the research truly measures that which it was intended to measure or how truthful the research results are.”

How can it go wrong?

The main cause of poor research validity is caused by the interviewer and can be due to inexperience, poor interview skills or subjective bias that they’re unaware of. Asking leading questions ‘Would you say design A is the best then?’ is especially common as it can take years to perfect this art but leading questions give misleading and false answers, therefore biasing and even invalidating your data.

Can you imagine if you recommend going with design A when actually if the research had been conducted differently the answer might have been to go with design B.

It’s important to remember that users won’t just sit there and tell you their honest opinions, they want to be helpful, they want to please you, so they are highly influenced by the interviewer. It’s the interviewer’s job to be as objective and open minded as possible, not transferring any bias through poorly worded leading questions, tone of voice, facial expressions or body language to the user.

How to improve your validity

Unbias your discussion guide

5W-s

I’ve heard stories from clients of receiving discussion guides full of leading questions. Fail at this stage and your bound to fail at the interview stage. The first step is to ensure all the questions in the discussion guide are fully thought through, flow well and all leading questions re-worded – Try using open questions that begin with the 5 Ws: What, Why, Who, When, Where and How.

Practice like an actor

practice

The more familiar you are with what you’re testing and the questions in the discussion guide, the greater ability you’ll have to stray away from the discussion guide when you need to. This preparation will also free your mind to give you greater ability to construct questions on the spot that aren’t leading. The more your cognitive resources are taken up the less likely you’ll be able to construct a good question, so by reading through the discussion guide multiple times in the days leading up to the research you’ll hopefully be so familiar and comfortable that you’ll be able to conduct some great research!

Watch your performance critically

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When you re-watch the research interviews, watch out for moments where you may have influenced the participant. Think about how you could ask the same question but in a different way to get a better response. Depending on the amount of influence you may have had, you may need to remove that user’s response from your data analysis. However, being critical of your own performance and learning from your mistakes is the best thing you can do to improve for next time.

Don’t worry about the odd slip

oops

It’s bound to happen. More at the start and less the more experienced you get. But even with experience, the odd slip will happen. Don’t worry about it too much. With experience you’ll recognise your mistake the moment the words leave your mouth. Don’t let the frustration of your error show to the user, let them answer, then later on re-word the question in a different way to double check their response. If it differs from their previous response then you know you biased their previous response, just take their new answer as their true opinion.

A note from me:

Lisa Duddington CircleThis is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, make sure you follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin

SAMSUNG

Don’t use one way mirrors for ux research

Do you use one way mirror labs? Do you value research that gets you the best results? Then you might want to re-consider using one way mirrors. Here’s why…

Talking to users is fascinating! It’s something I still love doing despite having conducted thousands of them over the last 10 years. When it comes to location, you can test almost anywhere but there’s one place that I now advise against, and that’s one way mirror labs.

What is a one way mirror lab?

A one way mirror lab (also known as two way) consists of two adjoining rooms with a mirror between them. One room is used to interview people and the mirror functions as a normal mirror from this side. On the other side of the mirror is the observation room where people watch the research taking place, from this side the mirror behaves as a window, enabling the observers to secretly observe what’s happening in the research room.

The negative consequences for research

I’ve used this setup many times and I’ve sat on both sides of the mirror. These are the problems:

Nervous users

As a researcher you should always tell the participant that there are observers behind the mirror. However, if I say to you now, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think about is a pink elephant. In psychology we call this the Ironic Process Theory or the White Bear Principle and it refers to the human tendency to continue to think about something after being told not to think about it.

So we’re ethically bound to tell people there are people behind the mirror but by doing that their attention is being drawn to it. Many users are fine with this and they’ll forget about the mirror. There are other users who will interview ok but afterwards they will mention how they felt like they were being watched and finally, some people simply do not interview well. They may appear nervous, glance at the mirror throughout, whisper some answers to you because they don’t want the people behind the mirror to hear any negative feedback, etc. And the mirror is a difficult thing for people to get over once they have a problem with it, because it’s such a huge object in the room and therefore a constant reminder.

Ask yourself, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable knowing there were people watching you behind a mirror in the room?

Positively biased responses

If you knew there were a group of people watching you behind a mirror wouldn’t you be more inclined to give positive responses and to withhold negative opinions? But it’s really important that we understand negative feedback in order to make things better.

Sound leakage

Your observers need to be relatively quiet. I’ve seen labs provide headphones so that observers can turn audio volume up without sound leaking into the testing suite.

When two rooms are next to each other, it’s impossible to soundproof them completely. If the observers next door get quite loud, the sound can leak into the adjoining room. This can be fatal if they laugh and the user hears this. In some labs, the doors don’t close quietly either – this is then another reminder to the participant that there are people watching them.

Noisy cameras

One way mirror labs almost always have cameras that can be controlled in the observation room. These aren’t always silent though. You might be in the middle of a really interesting insight when suddenly you hear the buzz of the camera. Off-putting to say the least and yet another reminder to the user that they are being watched.

Dark, uninspiring observation room where no one speaks

Observation rooms in labs are awful places really. There are no windows and therefore no natural light, the lights have to be turned off (otherwise you can see straight through the mirror) so it’s a dark, dull, uninspiring room to be sat in all day. In one way mirror labs sometimes the observers can be much quieter than in labs without a mirror, because you can see how close the participant is to you.

The problem is these are great setups for observing research, especially focus groups, not UX research. If you have a team of designers observing research, the one thing they’re guaranteed to want to do is sketch, but how do they do that well when they’re sat in a dark room? It’s not an environment that encourages team collaboration, makes a team feel energised, inspired and creative. Conversation and teamworking should be encouraged – now’s the perfect time for the team to collaborate and get to work on designs.

Ironically, no one really observes what’s happening through the mirror!

We spend most of our time watching the TV screens, which give us consistent detail, clarity and control. The glass, for all its glamour, doesn’t always fulfil its worth.

In UX research, the most important interaction to focus on is that between the user and what’s being tested, and in this regard you can’t see anything through the mirror, the detail is through the cameras pointing at what the user is doing. Therefore, the majority of the time, observers are focussed on the tv screen – where the action is. Compare it to UX design…if you want the users attention to focus on something you might give it a more central position, make it bigger, put everything else around it. So when the UI is the most important thing for people to observe, why do labs show this on a small tv screen and give the highest visual prominence in the room to the mirror? It’s crazy!

The solution

The alternative, better solution is to use two rooms that have all the same technology to record and observe the user and their interaction but in the observation room, there are TV screens and no mirror. GDS (Government Digital Services) also use this setup which you can see here. Without a mirror, you’ll get better insights from your more relaxed users and the observation room can now be a creative haven. You can turn up the lights, have natural daylight (windows), have dynamic team discussions and work together on sketches and ideas.

It suddenly becomes an exciting and inspiring workshop to turn user feedback into better designs! And this, is the whole purpose of user research.

A note from me:

This is a post I recently published on Linkedin Pulse. If you like it, you can follow my future posts or connect with me Linkedin

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Never use the word ‘Test’

When I first started life as a user researcher, it was commonplace (and it it still is) to refer to research as user testing or usability testing. I soon observed that when you use the word ‘test’ it:

a) Implies that you’re testing the end user (which is wrong, you’re testing the interface, you’re understanding of the customer, your user journeys, etc).

b) As soon as you mention the word ‘test’ to a participant they instantly tense up and worry. I used to say something along the lines of ‘please don’t be concerned, we’re not testing you, we’re testing the software’ and even this was too much. It’s a bit like if I say to you, don’t think of a pink elephant, the first thing you think of is a pink elephant – you just can’t help it, it’s how the human brain works.

I also noticed that when I used the word ‘test’ sometimes participants would ask me during the research session how they were doing or ask whether they’d got something right. In effect, they were treating it like a test. I haven’t experienced this since I stopped all use of the word ‘test’.

Now, when speaking with participants I always use the word ‘research’ which has a much more positive connotation. Of course, clients still use terms like user testing, and that’s absolutely fine, let’s not undo all the hard work ux professionals have done over the years to gain awareness of what we do, but let’s keep in mind that we’re always researching and aiming to understand things from the perspective of your target audience.

Have fun researching!:)

Fired Groupon CEO advises ‘start with the customer’


groupon

Did you read the letter from Groupon’s CEO about his leaving (or rather being fired from) the company? There was one paragraph that particularly stood out to me:

If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!

Start with the customer, base your decisions on evidence not intuition. Don’t just redesign your website, redesign it starting with the customer, do research into their lifestyle, their wants and needs from your product or service and how you can best meet those needs. Design the site and test then retest and retest again to get it spot on. Get it right the first time and in the long run you’ll save yourself the huge cost of rework and guesswork that results in lost customers and sales. Do it right, spend a bit more at the outset and reap the rewards.

Ask me about customer research and the design process >>>

 

Interview with Whirlpool’s UX Manager

kitchenaid uxIn my spare time I love baking (I love eating cakes), I run a local baking club and I absolutely love KitchenAid products. I love the industrial user-centred design and the attention to ease of use. So, for the Keep It Usable blog this month, I decided to interview my friend Brandon Satanek who is the UX manager at Whirlpool.

Not only is Brandon a great guy, but his knowledge and passion for UX is something you should learn from. If you’re unsure how UX can benefit your business, Brandon will reassure you with some fantastic examples. I especially like his example of how Whirlpool created innovative product concepts simply by sending their researchers into people’s homes to observe them doing their laundry and interviewing them.

After seeing people adopt rather uncomfortable postures, an idea was developed to create a platform to raise the products to a more convenient height…it shows how contextual user research can lead to user-centered innovations that directly impact the bottom line.

There are several names for this type of research; ethnographic, contextual inquiry, in-context. It’s my personal favourite style of research as you gain true insights into the user and their behaviour. Have you ever stepped into a strangers home and been able to make instant judgements on their personality, hobbies, interests, activity levels, family life that turned out to be accurate? Research has suggested that these judgements we make, which are based on our experience of life and people so far, are often accurate. If you’re interested to know more, I recommend reading Sam Gosling’s book Snoop: What your stuff says about you.

Many UXers shy away from contextual research as it is true research that requires a certain level of skill, and a lot of people who conduct usability testing aren’t specialist researchers.

Research conducted in the context of use is imho the best you can get. You will find out rich information and behavioural insights giving you those ‘why didn’t we think of that!’ moments that just can’t be gained through lab testing.

Read my interview with Brandon, it may just change your business…

How to make dogs drive cars and users click buttons

My latest post on Keepitusable about behaviour is now live and it’s a good one!

I explain the importance of understanding, researching, analysing and changing behaviour. Using BJ Fogg’s behaviour model I look at what contributes to a desired behaviour occurring or failing and how we can turn a user into a buyer through analysing the psychological buying process pyramid.

Here’s an extract from the article:

“Who would have thought that dogs could be taught to drive cars or that double the amount of users would click a button just through a simple design tweak.

Behaviour is fascinating. Not only can we research, analyse and understand behaviour, it is possible to then actively and deliberately change it. It isn’t easy or quick but if you get it right the results can be incredible. But human behaviour has deep, complex motivations and meanings which is why it’s vitally important to have at least one person involved in your project who has a solid background in psychology.

A good starting point for understanding behaviour is the work of BJ Fogg. His behaviour model states that three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: MotivationAbility, and Trigger. When a behaviour does not occur, it means that at least one of these key elements is missing….”

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Read the full article >>>

Information Architecture (IA)

Have you ever been to a website specifically to look for something and no matter how hard you look you just can’t find it? Most people will give up within a few seconds, hit the back button and go to a competitor. This is why your Information architecture is incredibly important – get it right and you will keep more people within your site, lowering your bounce rate and improving your conversion.

What is information architecture?

In simple terms, it’s about structuring your content to feel intuitive and logical to the end user.

An example of how not to do it

Tesco Direct have placed Halloween items within the heading ‘Christmas’ on the navigation bar. Users will struggle to find this as it makes no logical sense – halloween and christmas are completely separate occasions.

tesco ux usability

If a visitor to your website has the intention of browsing halloween things, they will already have expectations of where halloween things will be. Your aim is to try to understand their expectations of where they’ll find halloween related products. Only when you understand this, can you position it in the optimal place.

Card Sorting to create intuitive IA

One of the methods I employ to help create intuitive Information Architecture is Card Sorting. It’s an activity carried out with users (i.e. your target audience) using labelled cards to group and organise pages of content. Users categorise the pages in the way that makes sense to them and they can use existing grouping or create their own. What this enables us to do is to see the structure of your site or software from the user’s point of view – we can see and understand their mental model.

Card sorting exercise in action:

card sorting with userIf you’d like to understand more about how reviewing your IA can help your business or if you’re curious about card sorting please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

user experience (ux) design and usability testing agency