Week 2: User Research

User research is a crucial step in product design and development. It involves gathering information about how users interact with a product to inform its design. This week we were set a challenge in which we had to conduct user research, create an affinity map & and penultimately create a problem statement. This led to laying the foundations for the UX prototype we are creating for the module.

  1. Self-criticism

I conducted three phone interviews; the questions I set out were clear, but when I asked users face to face, I realised that they were biased and very much from my own internalised perspective on the product’s ideals. My feedback for the challenge confirmed my suspicions, my tutor stating stating “It’s important to remember that at this stage in the process, it’s not about validating our ideas, it is about learning from participants and understanding their needs/wants/motivations etc. Questions should be neutral and not leading, as otherwise we get false answers and miss the opportunity for real insights.

As well as taking in my tutor’s feedback, I also looked back to my self-reflection skills to help me gain some focus in the early stages of making the UX artefact for this module, which I learnt to hone in the GDO710 Development Practice module “Reflection is a complex process, but it is essentially about thinking through a problem or an experience in order to gain new understanding, and to change the way we act in future situations. It is a process of examining what we know and how we know it, of exploring what we do and why we do it, and of questioning our assumptions and values. Through reflection, we can develop a deeper understanding of our own experiences and those of others, and we can become more effective and efficient learners.” (Boud et al. 1985)

2. Contextual inquiries

Contextual inquiry is a user research method that focuses on observing people and their behaviour while performing tasks. Contextual inquiry aims to understand how users interact with a product or system and identify how they might struggle or encounter difficulties. By observing users and inquiring about their experiences, researchers can document their findings and make recommendations for improving the user experience.

Holtzblatt & Jones explain, “Contextual inquiry is a user-centered design (UCD) technique that is widely used in software design, where the focus is on understanding the user’s needs and requirements in the context of their work environment. It involves observing users in their natural setting and engaging them in a semi-structured interview process to understand how they use the product and what their needs and goals are.” (Holtzblatt & Jones, 1993)

3. Synthesising data

Synthesising data when it is fresh in your mind is an important part of the user research journey, these synthesising methods fall into four main methods these are Affinity Mapping, Journey Mapping, Generating problem statements and generating “how we might” statements.

Questions
“Would you be willing to be loaned out voluntarily to undertake work for others where the wage paid for your services goes to a charity”
“When you work for a charity, do you feel that you should work directly for a charity rather than a third party?”
“Do you feel that items in charity shops should be non branded items”
“When given the opportunity to provide a percentage of the proceeds of a sale of a product or perhaps an offered service to a charity, is that percentage amount easy to agree to”
“Do you stop all giving to charity when you are in debt no matter how little you give?”
“Is charity something you hold in importance over your own well being?”

The user’s answers were colour coded to match the affinity map results

3.1 My chosen methods to complete this week’s task

As part of the contextual enquiries for my research project, I conducted three phone interviews with participants. Before the interviews, I had created a set of questions that I thought were clear and would help me gather the information I needed. However, upon conducting the interviews, I realized that my questions were biased and heavily influenced by my own perspective on the product and its ideals. This realization was frustrating, as it meant that I was not getting the full picture of the participants’ experiences and perspectives. In hindsight, I should have used the double diamond method to go back to my original questions and reiterate them, so that I could have avoided this bias. But with the timeframe I took the time to explain my questions more clearly to the participants during the interviews and I made sure to ask follow-up questions to get a more complete picture.

After the interviews, I synthesized the data and organized it into an affinity map using Figma. From the affinity map, I was able to identify the main problem statement and use it to guide my research moving forward.

My affinity map was created from the questions and answers conducted over phone calls

3.2 Problem statement

From my affinity map, I created the following problem statement:

“The issue of balancing personal financial ability with a willingness and desire to support charitable causes through work, donations and purchases presents a challenge. There is limited ability to work for charity full time or via a third party, the discontinuation of formal charity giving during a period of personal debt can limit a users ability to support”

As my initial questions led to a broad set of conclusions within my affinity map, the above problem statement was also rather lacking in terms of clarity, I took on my feedback from my tutor, as mentioned earlier and edited the problem statement with regards to particular points of frustration for my potential users.

3.3 Problem statement revision 1

“Users need to budget and prioritize charitable giving, including setting aside a certain amount of money each month for donations and finding ways to support charities without spending money, such as volunteering time or skills. Addressing personal debt to enable more consistent charitable support.”

The above statement still had too many focus points for what was to be a simple prototype design yet, so I refined it further.

3.4 Problem statement revision 2

“There is a need to clarify what charitable giving activity has been undertaken by a user to plan and budget better in the future, to control future charity giving.”

A straightforward solution I took from this key user research stage was the requirement for users to balance personal finances within their charitable giving activity, which would lead to creating better budgets in the future.

By budgeting for charitable giving easier, individuals can ensure that they support the causes they care about while managing their finances effectively.

Conclusion

Throughout this week’s activity, my user research heavily depended on better questions being asked initially, as when the designer has a firm idea of what they want from a design but ignores the signs from the users as to what they need, that bias becomes a division in the user research process and can lead to a bad design being output.

References

Boud, D., Keogh, R., & Walker, D. (1985). Reflection: Turning experience into learning. Routledge.

Holtzblatt, K., & Jones, S. (1993). Contextual inquiry: A participatory technique for system design. In Conference companion on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 209-210). ACM.