Imagine a scenario in which you are trying to understand how to improve upon a standard wire paperclip. You touch and use the paperclip yourself. You spin around in your chair and try to catch your office mate using one, until he notices you staring and freezes in his tracks. Maybe you even ask your parents, neighbors or friends to demonstrate using a paperclip for you. Afterwards, you have a few ideas. You noticed several things that could improve a paperclip, but when you sit down to write or sketch suddenly it seems like you're just thinking in circles. You may end up with one or two hard-won concepts that, while they are improvements, don't seem to be a broad enough base upon which to build. For most companies, this means going back to the drawing board, asking for "more to go on," or often abandoning the platform entirely.
This fruitless scenario can easily evolve into a powerful tool if you add a little technique to the recipe. Committing to the concept of observation in context (AKA not in a focus group setting) is a good step towards success. Utilizing the AEIOU method to catalog your results will help you reap the full benefit of the time you invest in observation.
What to pay attention to during an observation:
- ACTIVITIES: What are people doing? Describe tasks, paying attention to the sequence of steps (ie: task analysis).
- ENVIRONMENT: What are the details of the setting? Pay attention to the lighting, furniture, noise levels, and other influencers to the user experience.
- INTERACTIONS: What exchanges are taking place? Between people, objects, and space?
- OBJECTS: What objects do you observe? Doodle and list what they are, their uses, and abstract meanings that people give to them.
- USERS: Who's using it? What's their demographic profile? How do their unique perspectives change the experience?