Some people believe that you can read a bunch of scientific articles and then just know your users. I don’t! I believe in getting close to the user to be able to understand the why, what, when, and the wonderful. If I want to give you the best birthday present ever, I cannot just listen to what the sales personnel is making most bonus on. I need to get under your skin to come up with a present that not only meet your requirements, but also blows you away!
The best way of getting to know your user is to walk in their foot steps, literally! The technique of shadowing is that you follow your user for a long period of time (like 8 hours). You note down everything that your user does, how often, and sometimes ask the user to explain what s(he) does. We humans tend to say that they do one thing, but then often do it in another way. When it comes to analyzing the collected data, it is often that you see a pattern of behavior right away. A pattern that you probably wouldn’t find from qualitative interviews or quantitative survey. To get the whole picture, you must of course combine shadowing methods with other. It’s not a good idea to ask what the user likes to do on his/her spare time, when the user is, for example, conducting an surgical operation!
I have been performing user studies of many different user types, different environments, and different countries. As a Swede, the key to getting close to people that you don’t know is through the Swedish word “fika“. A fika is coffee with cake or a bun. If you start with a fika, people usually tend to relax a bit. When people are relaxed it is easier to start bonding.
One of the most strong memories I have from a user study is from an emergency ward and a little school boy had hurt his hand bad during a woodwork class. Even though the boy cried of pain, all the medical professionals (nurses, physician) in the room kept a calm approach trying to ease the pain. At the same time they all worked together, like a clockwork, placing an injection needle, drip, cleaning the scar tissue, and calming the little boy. I realized how important emotion work was at that time. If somebodies mobile phone would burst or if a machine with complicated user interface demanded attention, this emotion work would be interrupted. The boy would probably don’t get all the attention he deserved. If products to these user groups where only created in closed design studios, I am sure that this emotion work would not have been counted for.
Communication of who are your user is one of the most important step in the product creation process. A target group analysis includes the different user groups, their needs and wishes. Making personas is one way of communicating the real users to the project team. If this is not done properly, it is easy for the project team to make self-referential decisions.