“It’s like drinking from a fire hose with a straw, with another smaller straw inside it.” That’s how a colleague who was not allowed to record participants in user research sessions described doing contextual inquiries for a very complex financial application. He was trying to prepare me for my own contextual inquiries with the same client, who didn’t allow any recording devices: No video. No audio. No pictures. Handwritten notes only.
As a consequence, working in an unfamiliar domain, we would be observing very complicated work involving many different applications, documents, and interactions with other employees. Simply trying to observe and understand what was going on would be difficult enough. But trying to simultaneously record all of that information in only handwritten notes, without introducing any delays in the sessions, would be an extreme challenge.
Fortunately, we convinced our client to do the recordings themselves, so they could keep the recordings in their possession at all times. They agreed to allow us to listen to the recordings later in their offices. This eased their security concerns and made our research much easier. It allowed us to focus on what we were observing in the moment and rely on listening to the recordings later to capture detailed notes.
The Difficulty of Capturing User Research
“You have to juggle a lot during any user research session, even without the added job of capturing the experience for later analysis.”
You have to juggle a lot during any user research session, even without the added job of capturing the experience for later analysis. Throughout each user research session, you’re setting participants’ expectations, guiding them to demonstrate tasks, keeping them on track, reminding them to think aloud, managing the pace of the session, and keeping an eye on the clock. You’re also tracking your own behavior, maintaining appropriate eye contact and body language, ensuring you use a neutral tone to avoid bias, and using your interpersonal skills to make participants feel at ease.
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