User Research

Since a lot of my recent work involved designing productivity-oriented applications, I’ve used several different ethnographic research methods for user research, including contextual inquiry studies to build up mental models and workflows.

People, Tools, Process & Artifacts

In the contextual inquiry method, the researcher watches users do their own work tasks and discusses any artifacts they generate or use with them. In addition, the researcher gathers detailed re-tellings of specific past events when they are relevant to the project focus. In the example below, we were shadowing a field crew of an Electric Distribution Utility Company to understand the use of artifacts and the interrelationship of personas in the Utility Design domain.

Work Models, Artifacts and System Objects

Through the interpretation of design insights generated during contextual inquiries, we can create a work model helps us develop:

  • A shared understanding of the user-data;
  • A shared language for the design team;
  • An easily understandable deliverable for communication outside the design team;
  • A visual representation of the user data

In the example below, we were looking for opportunities to map real world objects and system objects in the Utility Design domain.

Design Insights and Interpretation

Processing customer visits data can be done in many different ways. The method I’ve usually worked with team is through the traditional affinity diagram technique. In the example below, we were trying to extract mental models related to the Utility Design domain:

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