User Research Lessons From the Field

Having just completed a round of user research field visits, here are some of the lessons I was reminded of about the importance of a field diary, camera work, and thanking people.

Field diary

As soon as possible after concluding each user research visit and leaving the participant’s area, find a place where you can sit down to collect and record your thoughts. I prefer putting these thoughts in writing, but you can use your audio recording equipment if you’re pressed for time.

  • What were your first impressions?
  • What surprised you?
  • What do you want to be sure to cover in the next interview?
  • What themes are starting to emerge?
  • What worked well? Which questions should be re-worked?

If you’re working with another researcher, try to record these thoughts without first discussing them. Then you can debrief together – over lunch is great, but be sure to preserve a record of additional insights that you uncovered together.

Camera work

Before going out into the field, practice your camera work. And then view it. Do you have any new equipment? Get very familiar with it so there is no fumbling in front of the participant. What kind of images will you be taking? Practice those. Will you have a hand free? Will you have a lap or table available? Will you use a monopod or tripod? (For maneuverability combined with stability, I highly recommend trying a monopod.) Will you be running the interview at the same time? Will you be recording someone’s use of an electronic screen? Make sure your technique records the details you want to capture by reviewing the footage that you shoot.

Thank people

A paragraph from Chapter 4 of Service Design, triggered this thought. When showing and describing what to the participant is their ordinary, everyday activities, participants may wonder whether they’ve wasted your time. Many will feel a desire to help you succeed in your research, and they’ll feel better when you thank them and let them know how valuable their input has been.

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