Hit the Ground Running


This was another very actionable insight that I gleaned from the book QE. Whether your research project is a few days, or involves tracking users over several years, it is imperative for researchers to get going. Spending too much time at the beginning limits the time you have to spend in the field. After your plan is developed, give yourself a goal to accomplish 3 key research tasks in your first 3 weeks in the field. One of the tools that may help to organize your research is a user research database. This can take on many formats but I personally have found spreadsheets to be both lightweight and effective in this regard. On a new research project, I would organize a user research workbook (one page per user) with sheets to include things like user characteristics, preferences, dislikes, tasks and any answers to specific questions. Documenting and organizing each user from the beginning is helpful, it’s very painful to do field work and then spend days on end trying to decode your notes well after the fact. As your research progresses, you can fine-tune the database to add more details or organize the details in a way that will help to uncover patterns or simplify the process of aggregating and analyzing your data.

Inside Looking Out


I found two ideas in the third chapter of “Quick Ethnography” to be particularly useful. First, “seek to understand people from the inside looking out”. It can be really easy to use our individual perspective to construct or deconstruct how or why a user perceives a product of feature to be. However, using our perspective instead of the users could lead to very wrong conclusions. This leads to the second important point, “anticipate your best data by appearing a little stupid”. As UX practitioners, we must strive to push aside the expert in us in order to learn from the user expert. This way we can collect the best data to draw accurate conclusions and make effective recommendations on future designs.

Start With Ethnography

quick_ethnographyI recently launched into the book “Quick Ethnography” by W. Penn Handwerker and have been pleasantly surprised at how much the practice of user experience research and design is grounded in traditional ethnographic practice. Practitioners of UX come from many backgrounds and the methods we use more or less stem from this social science. For example, the notion of creating user personas, fundamentally is the outcome of a paired down ethnographic process. I’m hoping to glean some insights about the basic principles of traditional ethnography to better understand and ultimately improve my practice.