One way to really understand how your users work on your product is to view them in their natural environment. That puts their working circumstances and environment in perspective. By observing people, you see things they would not normally tell you. Maybe because it’s so routine they don’t realize they are performing such actions. Maybe because they do not think it is relevant. If you just observe a person in their work situation, then you can decide what actions they take are related to the software or product you are working on.
Here are some questions to keep in when when you are performing an ethnographic research study:
- Is the work place quiet and calm?
- Do the users get interrupted a lot?
- What other tasks do they do while working on your software or product?
- How is the work station set up? Is it on a desk? A counter? Shared by several users?
- What real world objects do they use instead of using the computer? (like post-it notes and pens)
You can learn a lot by acting as a “fly on the wall” and getting a feel for how the workplace is run and how the software interacts in that work flow.
Value of Ethnographic Research
I cannot express enough how important it is to get out of the office and get in to the user’s real world. In the photo above, had I not visited this doctor in her office, I doubt she would have told me about her paper files organization. It’s just as useful to understand a person’s physical environment as it is to understand their electronic or software environment. That way, you can figure out how you can make the two world meet seamlessly.
Plus, you get to see things like these cutie pies.