Observation Research Process

One of the very first assignments given to us while studying Interaction Design module took me by surprise. We were asked in the tutorial to go to a specific place within or just outside the University [in small groups] and to do a little observation. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this module actually imparts hands-on training, I am a trained tracker [observation research specialist, in-situ shopper research] and what I learned the hard way in my professional career was being taught to students while learning the nuts and bolts of Interaction Design.

We were not just asked to observe but to observe and substantiate the quality of observation. Observation methodology within usability or user experience research is extremely valuable as Jakob Nielsen states “First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users… instead, WATCH them at work”

I simply loved this assignment and we all came back with so much information that I personally feel our course leader Stephanie Wilson must have been proud of all the students in the class. Some of the things we came back include:

Recording sightlines
Pathways
Visual assessment of signage
Frequency distribution of people
Visual clues
Information boards
Profiling people
Interaction with staff [e.g. coffee shop]
Quantifying all of the above using a systematic time sheet

We gathered so much information that when we were asked to report on it, we were perplexed, yes, accurate recording and analysis of observational research are equally important and we all recorded observation using our own templates…ekk, recipe for pitfall.

We really learned to develop and use a system [e.g. template] in future so that all the data is captured properly and recorded in pre-determined formats [where ever possible] to facilitate analysis. This learning was really useful when we went on to do a real life project later on during the course and used observational methodology much more effectively.

Some of the things I scribbled in my notepad during the limited time of 3 mins we had for observation are shown below:

A more methodological approach would involve developing a multi-dimensional observational template to facilitate recording behaviour of each sample point or person we would observe and the use of scientific equipment to time each instance. I also happened to take a couple of images to strengthen my observational discussion points which are shown below 🙂