Customer research too expensive? Unless you’re working for an university with stringent ethical requirements to meet – you’re making your job too hard. Ethnography* is everywhere.
Last night, after Girly Geeks, I was on the tube on the way home and beside me sat a man performing a task that I *wish* I could have designed for user testing… except I would never have thought of it. Oh, and I don’t have budget.
I watched him a while. Then I asked him if I could take a photo of what he was doing, and explained why I was interested.
Unfortunately we got to Oxford Circus and I had to get off the tube, otherwise I would probably still be in conversation with this guy about why he sits on the tube at 10.30pm on Tuesday evening circling TV listings in TimeOut.
Once he started talking, he had a big story to tell and a rationale for why he was doing this. Of course, it was all premised on the idea that he was ‘killing time’, but then he got into detailed explanations about the way that his personal video recorder worked and how many programs he could record or watch at the same time, and how he treated programs that he knew he like, to those he was still testing out, to those that were ‘experimental’ (his words).
Research is brilliant at helping us work out what the design problems are and how we might try to solve them. But not all projects have the budget or resources for a formal user research phase. Don’t let that put you off.
Ask the people you work with. Ask the people you live with. Ask people you know to ask people they know. Try to get some of their time and ask them some questions. You’ll be amazed how many are willing to help out for free.
People care about design – even if they don’t know it. And they love to be involved and to make a difference. And they have lots of stories to tell and they love that you’re interested in hearing them, and that you think those stories are important.
And, of course, they are important. And they’re everywhere.
Ethnography is everywhere. If you’re looking for it.
Image: man marking Time Out TV schedule on the Central Line tube last night. Larger image here.
*note: I use the term ‘ethnography’ in that kind of loose way that lots of us in HCI use it. Apologies to *real* ethnographers :)