UIE Roadshow 2005: Know Your Users

This week I attended the 2005 UIE Roadshow, which was all about getting to know your users better. Day one was about discovering user needs through field research, and day two covered the use of personas to guide design. I didn’t attend day three, which centered on usability testing.

Both days were intensive, very practical workshops run by a single presenter (or duo in the first case).

Day One: Discovering User Needs

This was presented by Kate Gomoll and Ellen Story of Gomoll Research & Design.

The first step for truly understanding your users’ goals and attitudes is to watch people in context.

In a nutshell the day covered the process of selecting users, identifying what you want to learn from them, preparing for the visit to the user, conducting the visit (interviewing and observing the user), and then analyzing the data generated from the visit and sharing it within your organization.

Particularly useful was the opportunity we had to apply what we were being taught during the day itself. Once we had learned how to prepare for and conduct a field visit, we broke into teams and carried out mini “field research visits” with staff from the hotel where we were meeting to understand more about their job functions.

Once we had arrived back with our data, our ‘artifacts’ (documents, photos and anything else we could swipe that helped to tell the story of what that person does at the hotel), and our learnings, Kate and Ellen ran us through how to present these to colleagues and stakeholders in an effective and engaging way.

This was not in the form of a lengthy report as one might typically imagine, but through the use of such deliverables as storyboards, pictures and photos, process flow charts, anecdotes and quotes and anything else that summed up what was learned in an easy-to-understand way.

I found this to be particularly helpful as I, for one, hate writing reports which I worry that no one will read. The method presented helps to disseminate the information in a much more effective manner and in a way that will have a longer term impact on the design process.

For instance, if you have these posters, charts, and storyboards up on your wall while the design process is going on, it’s much harder to ignore the needs of your users when they’re staring down at you.

Day Two: Using Personas To Guide Design

Day two was presented by Kim Goodwin of Cooper. I am especially interested in the concept of using personas in the design process but have also been a little skptical as to their utility. Thus, it was something of an eye-opener to see how their use really drives the design process at Cooper.

A persona is a description of an archetypal user synthesized from a series of interviews with real people. When incorporating personas into the design process, teams can focus on each persona’s goals to develop a product that satisfies the needs of many users.

Kim took us through the persona development process in a very practical and step-by-step way, the key part of which for me was learning how to turn your copious user interview notes into data-driven user archetypes.

In essence, you look for obvious behaviors and then draw up a range or scale for each behavior (along the lines of “does this a lot” to “does this a little”). For each user you then map out where they fall on that behavior range, and once you’ve done this for everyone, you look for correlations of users, which you can then turn into personas.

It was all fascinating stuff, and was made all the more clearer as we practiced what we were learning by running through each of the steps with an example project involving persona development for a photo-related product.

You can’t beat workshops where you can take what you learned and start using it the next day.

Parting Thoughts

Both days were very well presented and of great value, although I found the workshop on persona development especially relevant and insightful. (Plus, it covered part of what was covered in day one).

If you ever get the chance to attend a UIE Roadshow event, on the basis of this one, I would highly recommend it.