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When can the method be used? User Observation helps you to study what your intended
Depending on the discipline there may
be different hypotheses and research
users do in a specific situation. Observations enable you
questions to be answered, and thus to understand phenomena, influential variables or other
very different data to be assessed elementary interrelations in ‘real life’.
and analysed. Human Sciences mainly
focus on the behaviour of people and
their interactions with the social and any other research method, it is very Limitations of the method
technical environment. Using well-defined useful to add further data sources to When people know that they are being
indicators, you can describe, analyse and triangulate the analysis and interpreta- observed, they might behave differently
explain the relations between observable tion of the data; for example, you may than they would normally. When they do
and hidden variables. combine observations with interviews not know, ethical guidelines need to be
Observations are helpful whenever you to get a better understanding of what taken into consideration.
have no or hardly any understanding of was going through people’s minds.
phenomena, influential variables or other For analyses all data are grouped in Tips & Concerns
elementary interrelations, or want to see combinations of pictures, remarks and • Always carry out a pilot.
what will happen in ‘real life’. Different quotes and qualitatively analysed. • Make sure that the stimuli, such as
observations will confront you with both models and prototypes, are suitable
expected and unexpected situations. When Possible procedure for the observations and ready in time.
exploring the design problem, it is helpful For User Observation to understand • Ask those you wish to observe for their
to articulate the aspects that influence usability aspects of your design: permission if you want to disclose the
the interactions. Observing people in STEP 1 observations, or be sure to make them
their daily routines leads to a better Determine what, who and where you want anonymous.
understanding of what makes a good to observe – the whole situation. • Think about inter-rater reliability. It is
product or service experience. Watching STEP 2 easier to plan this at the beginning of
people interacting with your prototypes Define criteria for the observation – a study rather than later.
will help you to improve your design. duration, money, main design criteria. • Think of ways to operationalise the
You will gain a better understanding of STEP 3 data.
your design problem and how and why Select and invite participants. • Go through your notes and add
concepts work effectively – and also rich STEP 4 impressions as soon as possible after
illustrations to help you communicate your Prepare the observation sessions – check each observation.
design decisions to various stakeholders. whether video/photography is allowed; • Engage stakeholders by doing at
make an observation form, including least part of the analyses together.
How to use the method? a checklist of everything you want to However, be aware that they might
If you want to observe people in their observe and questions for interviews; and take only one or two impressions as a
natural setting without intervening, you do a pilot observation. reference.
can do this by acting as ‘a fly on the wall’ STEP 5 • The hardest part of observing is to
or by observing and asking questions. For Execute the observations. keep your mind open. Do not look for
subtler research, you observe how people STEP 6 things you already know. Instead, be
react to situations in real practice or in a Analyse your data and transcribe the prepared for the unexpected. For this
lab situation. Video is the preferred means video results. reason, video is preferred; though it
of documenting observation results, but STEP 7 is time-consuming, it provides you
many other methods are also available, Communicate and discuss your findings with rich illustrations and latitude for
such as photos and taking notes. As with with your stakeholders. multiple observations.

Collage of photobooths mounted on cardboard, gelatin silver prints, 455 x 585 mm (detail), 1972 Franco Vaccari
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING: Abrams, B., 2000. The observational research handbook: Understanding how consumers live with your product.
Lincolnwood, Ill: NTC business Books. / Daams, B.*, 2011. Product-ergonomie, ontwerpen voor nut, gebruik en beleving. Undesigning. / Stempfle, J. and
Badke-Schaub, P.,* 2002. Thinking in design teams - an analysis of team communication. Design Studies, September, 23(5), pp. 473-496.