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DIY User Research :: My BarCamp Presentation

This weekend I went to BarCamp and it was great. Always good to catch up with fellow campers and hear what’s on their minds.

What was on my mind this weekend was DIY User Research – you can see my slides above. This took me a little out of my comfort zone as I resolved not to say ‘it depends’ but to make some overall recommendations as to how almost anyone can afford the time and budget to do a little research, and the best ways to spend that time or budget.

This has been based on the experiences I’ve had recently doing User Research for start up companies who have very small amounts of time and money, but who desperately need the kind of research that I’ve recommended. The techniques I’ve suggested here have worked very well so far, although I hasten to add that I’ve undertaken the research work myself.

This is not to say that you can’t *really* do it yourself… if you use the right techniques you will get a LOT of value from DIY research… but an experienced researcher is, of course, worth their weight in gold :)

Guerrilla Techniques – Does inexpensive research have to be ‘quick & dirty’?

I’m really interested to hear what guerrilla style techniques you’re using to do User Research when there’s not a lot of budget or if you don’t have the traditional research facilities or infrastructure?

I imagine there’s some pretty interesting stuff going on out there, what with all the new and often free web based tools that we have available that should make observational research more and more accessible to all of us.

More and more of us are using a combination of camera phones and sites like Flickr in place of traditional ‘diary studies’, and some of us have investigated using tools like Twitter for this purpose as well (has anyone actually done a contextual research study using Twitter yet? I’d love to hear about it).

I also hear great stories of more and more people getting out into Starbucks and other public places (although, for some reason, it often seems to be Starbucks – wifi I guess) and doing some usability testing with unsuspecting members of the public.

Do you have strategies for inexpensive and rapid recruitment techniques that actually allow you to recruit to a profile? (Or multiple profiles). Could social networking tools like FaceBook or Twitter (again) play a role here perhaps? (Insert concerns re: bias in audience sample)

Has anyone come up with a video set up that allows for both screen capture and a video of the user without needing two computers? (I have a webcam built into my MacBook… surely it’s feasible!)

What other wild and wacky – but most of all inexpensive and accessible – techniques and tools are you using to find out more about the people who use (or might use) whatever it is you’re designing?

Are we getting to the point where, perhaps, we can do better research outside of the lab than inside it?

That’s a whole lotta questions. What say you?

Design Consequences: A fun workshop technique for brainstorming & consensus building

Design Consequences

For my recent BarCamp session I shared a design technique that a colleague and I developed quite recently that we’ve found to be quite successful in both generating great design ideas and developing consensus about the design approach for projects within a multi-disciplinary team.

We call this technique Design Consequences, due to the similarity it has with the similarly named childrens games. We tend to use it in the earlier stages of the design process, although it can be used for more detailed interface design problems.

So, how does it work? It’s pretty simple really.

What you need:

  1. a clearly articulated design problem and design goal(s) - for the BarCamp exercise our design problem was to design an electronic version of the BarCamp session wall where people could add their own session and choose which sessions they were going to attend. 
  2. some design ideas or components – when I do this in a client context, we do this by spending time beforehand looking at our specific challenges and seeing how other people have approached them, and trying to understand design techniques or principles that work (as well as those that don’t). This gives people access to a much greater repoirtore of ideas to draw in the Design Consequences exercise.
  3. a multi-disciplinary team - try to get the entire team if you can. The exercise works best with no more than 8 people involved, but it can be done with more if required. Get management to the table, bring all kinds of designers, bring the product managers and marketers, bring your developers. Bring everyone you can, as long as they’re familiar with the project and the design problem.
  4. lots of paper and markers and post its – make them as colourful and fun as possible. Make it look like a crafting session. A sense of play and enjoyment is key to this exercise.
  5. some examples of the type of output you’re expecting – anything that starts with the word ‘design’ can be very intimidating and scary. Lots of people ahve been told throughout their lives that they can’t draw, or that they aren’t creative. I have some *very* scratchy samples that have been created by people who design for a living. I show these before we get started so that people realise quickly that pretty drawings are not part of the equation.
  6. A bundle of energy – you need to be just a little bit hyper to run this exercise :)

What you do:

  1. Round One – everyone has seven minutes to design, individually, the the first page that users would see when confronting the ‘design problem’. So, a typical example would be a website homepage, but it could be any part of an application or website or even, say, an email. The faciliator(s) should participate, but keep an eye on the clock and give some warnings with a few minutes to go, and again at about 30 seconds.
  2. Round Two – here’s the consequences twist. Everyone picks up the page they’ve designed, then passes it on to the person on their right (or left, it doesn’t really matter). Everyone then has to review the page they’ve received (ask for clarification from the original designer if it’s a little sketchy in places), then decide – if you were the user, what would *you* interact with, and what would happen next. You have seven minutes to draw ‘what happens next’. (Don’t tell people about Round Two before Round One, it’s much more fun when it’s a bit of a surprise).
  3. Show and Tell – we then go around in a circle and each person describes the page they received, what aspect they chose to interact with and why, and then describes what they designed next. Discussion is encouraged.

What do you get? Lots of great data, and lots of great conversation fodder.

It’s a good idea to capture as much of this as possible as you go around the group. Of course, the best way to do this is to write up ideas onto post it notes as you go and stick them on the wall. There should be an ‘in’ section of the wall and an ‘out’ section of the wall. (‘In’ means that the idea has legs for this particular design problem). Affinity sorting on the run also helps to draw out the key themes or ideas that have emerged from the exercise. You should be leading the group discussion, helping the group to gain consesus and make decisions as to the design approach to be taken in solving the design problem, and trying to document these decisions as you go.

This process can be quite time consuming and intense, but more often than not there will be a few key ideas that the group is particularly enthusiastic about and that really propels the decision making.

By the end of the session you should be in a position where everyone is in agreement about *what* will be included in the wireframes that comprise the next phase of the design process.

Why would you use this approach?

  • It makes a great change from the talk-fest of meetings
  • It generates lots of ideas – and often some really great ones 
  • It stops people getting to attached to their design ideas and makes evaluation and critiquing more effective
  • It helps get all the team feedback and ideas into the pot (in particular, it’s great to get management and technical input at this stage)
  • It drives buy-in, involvement and consensus
  • It pulls in cross-discipline scills (for example, developers are often really great at quickly identifying great ID approaches for Rich Internet Applications)
  • You’d be amazed what you learn earlier rather than later by involving the entire team at this early stage
  • Getting lots of brains involved in the design process can uncover some really creative gems
  • It makes the design process faster
  • It’s fun!

So, there you have it. Some quick notes on a technique that’s been quite useful for me lately. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it and if you try it, to see if you too find it useful.

open office

in the last few days, Microsoft Office has been playing up on me. I go to load Windows, and it just doesn’t. I don’t know what’s wrong and I’ve tried all the technical tricks I know to get it working (which is a pretty limited bag of tricks I have to admit). So, I’ve decided to ditch it.

At CeBIT when I was talking to the Open Source people, they gave me a copy of the Unbuntu CD which has Open Office included on it. I’ve used Writer and Calc so far… and so far they’re proving just as good as Word and Excel.
At this rate, I’m going to be quite happy to ditch Office for ever and switch to Open Office. Do you know of any reason why I shouldn’t?

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