My tips on doing User Research

(Este post também pode ser lido aqui em português.)

A workmate asked me some tips about conducting a Focus Group. That led me to think on what I have learned — and what I’m still learning — regarding User Research, be it on this group dinamic, be it in interviews and etnographic research. It’s not an exhaustive, definitive, list.

Warm up yourself and break the ice

Since people we recruit are not usually familiar with the ambient created by the research — nor they were made to be –, you, as a researcher have to be relaxed to help initial ice breaking. Do questions to warm yourself as for ignite the conversation. Sure: it’s not small talk, it’s about talking of something more broad inside the chosen theme.

Quebrando o Gelo
Foto by dlscape (flickr)

General to particular

Speaking of a more broad sense… putting things this way — going from the whole to the part — seems to me a good path to follow. First, more opened questions… so to start focusing, step by step, without giving all away once.

Paisagem
Foto by josullivan.59 (flickr)

Indirect, tangential, questions… why not?

When you do research, you have some questions in mind, don’t you? To do not influence or direct the replies, I suggest that you to add tangential questions regarding the main subject. That might give you some extra clues and help not to be so rough about getting what we’re looking for “as fast as you can!”.

Foto by gumption (flickr)

Babblers: shut up! With the word, the introverts

This one is for group dynamics: usually some people talk more than others, for their temperament or not feeling comfortable in a given environment. It’s a indispensable role of the mediator to balance that. Mainly for the fact that introverts, in general, are more observant and have interesting things to say.

Foto by Chris Blakeley (flickr)

Bring your gang

To do any kind of research, don’t go by yourself. This is kind of obvious, but I’ll explain the main advantage: if you do an interview, for example, in pair with an workmate, one can be in charge of asking questions and looking in the eye of the interviewee, as the other is free to take notes without becoming directly involved. With more people involved and helping, you can discuss and consolidate findings from what they saw, heard, noted…

cidade-de-deus-todos
Scene of the movie “City of God”

Look for stories, not theories

Theories are for experts (developers, designers, product managers …), storytelling is for everyone. From theories, we are already well supplied, reading blogs, books, talking on a daily basis with colleagues. A good story of how people behave “out there” is what really matters.

Foto by NCinDC (flickr)

Get technical problems out of your sight

Do not let technical issues (eg, “How do we record this usability test? Microphone is working right?”) be on your way when it’s research time. Solve this problems as soon as possible, and if they don’t have solution, simplify, cut something that you had initially planned, to not lose the chance of doing it anyway.

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Fotos by crabchick (flickr)

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