Shadowing and observation in user research

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Qualitative research is based on the observation and collection of non-numerical insights. The results describe the frustrations and desires of the users. This information will help us to constantly improve the product.

To really understand what people do, we can’t just ask them, we have to observe them. The observation provides accurate information about people, their tasks, habits, their needs and pain points.

Observation means looking, listening, and thinking carefully about what we’re seeing and hearing, so we can find out specific details.

Observation helps us to find out extensive information about mood, body language, pace, interaction style, user habits and timing and gives us a full picture user’s point of view.

The goal is to observe participants’ natural behavior, without interrupting them or affecting their behavior.

Regular observation sessions provide useful feedback to us which can be used for constant product improvement. They also help us to create and adjust personas.

Shadowing is a kind of qualitative research and observation.

Shadowing is observing the users in their environment where they work every day. It will show their pinpoints, product strengths and problems, user communication with the product, struggles, physical and mental obstacles, …

In shadowing, the researcher follows participants around as they perform their daily activities. Sometimes quietly and sometimes interacts with the user.

The goal of this technique is to observe people’s natural activities. This will help us to create intuitive software and improve the overall user experience.

First, we need to observe without evaluation. We should review the data and finding patterns: example. Where several users make mistakes? Then find out the reason.

1. Plan:

a. What activities and processes we should observe? What are the details?

We might consider these details about what we are testing: (Flows, tasks, features, processes …)

. User expectation: Does what we are testing meets user expectations?

. Clarity: Is it clear enough?

. Value: How important is that feature, flow, task, …

. Spot pain points and frustrations: What causes doubts, hesitations, confusion or uncertainties?

b. Find out Interactions: between the users and other people, between the user and the product. For example, an executive assistant uses the product for his/her boss and how that user, for example, saves a file using the product.

c. Select users: Who are people we are observing? For example The person who directly uses the product or a manager who expects the staff to use the product.

d. Build trust: If the participant does not feel comfortable, critical information could be missed.

e. Consider small details: Small details should be observed as if the user uses a mouse or touchpad, how large is the monitor, how fast is the computer, …

f. Find out distractions: What does not help the user act?

g. Select the right location: We would like to observe the user in their daily workplace like open office, private office, public area and even consider a different location that users might work, …

h. Observe the environment: Environment’s details. Is the environment quiet, busy, comfortable, etc.?

2. Analyze:

After careful observing, we can evaluate and find out how we can improve.

With direct and one by one user review we can observe a user’s emotions and their interaction with the product.

We need to observe several users to find out patterns, their habits, pain points, interaction styles, … and need several types of research to find out different perspectives.

As a member of the research team, we don’t discuss the session with our teammates until we’ve done all our observations sessions. After that, we can discuss all the information in a meeting, categorize data and make derision based on that.

After analyzing and categorizing data, we can add, remove features, makes flows simpler, create more useful processes, creating/adjusting personas and finally improve the user experience and our product.

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