20 (Alternate) Ways to Focus on Users

Posted: 1 October, 2008 in Technical

Many web professionals know about certain ways to focus on users. The most popular methods surely include usability tests, card sorting, personas, surveys, and watching current research, and they mean valid approaches to enable products and services that actually work. The following list aims to show some alternative methods towards more useful products.

Note: This article is based on own usability work and experience, but several methods have also been inspired by IDEO’s commendable Method Cards (order at William Stout). Many thanks to IDEO for “fair use” permission.

  1. Activity analysis: Observe an activity in a situation as natural as possible, and compile all tasks, actions, objects, performers, and interactions being part of that process in order to create activity models and to find key issues.
  2. Anthropometric analysis: Use information of a wide range of users in order to determine the general appropriateness of products.
  3. Behavioral mapping: Track positions and movements of people within a space over time in order to determine spatial behaviors.
  4. “Be your customer”: Ask clients to describe and outline user experiences in order to get to know and to contrast client perceptions.
  5. Character profiles: Observe people and create character profiles in order to develop “persona-like, typical customers”.
  6. Cognitive task analysis: List and describe all sensory inputs, decision points, and possible actions of users in order to understand perceptional, attentional, and informational needs, and to focus on system features that the user will find hard to learn.
  7. Empathy tools: Use tools like e.g. clouded glasses in order to experience products differently and to get a better understanding of users with special conditions.
  8. Error analysis: Document all things that might go wrong and determine the causes in order to develop an understanding of the interaction of design elements.
  9. Experience drawings: Ask users to draw experiences in order to determine how people conceive and perceive.
  10. Extreme user interviews: Ask absolute novice or expert users to examine their product use experiences in order to gain insight for improvements.
  11. Five Why’s: Ask five “Why?” questions in response to five successive questions in order to be forced to evaluate and articulate reasons for attitudes and requirements.
  12. “Fly on the wall”: Observe and protocol behavior within its context, staying on the sideline, in order to determine what users really do.
  13. Foreign correspondents: Ask for input from people in other countries in order to understand cross-cultural principles and issues.
  14. Historical analysis: Determine industry, market, and product trends in order to understand and project the development.
  15. Long-range forecasts: Think about future scenarios and their technological and social implications in order to “forecast” and anticipate behavior changes.
  16. Personal inventory: Document things that are important to people in order to get to know their lifestyles and activities.
  17. Role playing: Play the roles of stakeholders involved in design problems in order to increase the understanding of users.
  18. Scale modeling: Use scaled models and prototypes in order to understand spatial interaction.
  19. Scenario testing: Confront users with e.g. cards with probable future situations in order to determine the value of and reaction to design concepts.
  20. Social network mapping: Document and map the different ways of interaction between users in a group in order to understand relationships and their structures.
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