The hidden benefits of observing user research

  • Sam Menter

User research is fundamental to the way we approach design. We involve the users of a service in the discovery phase and throughout the design process.

One way we do this is via face-to-face depth interviews and usability tests – exploring a problem or a design concept with the people we are designing for.

Depending on the project we might be out and about visiting users, hijacking a meeting room or using a research lab – a space designed specifically for running user research with tools technology and space that make it easy for teams to observe and participate.

And it’s the group observation and participation that a research lab facilitates that is so valuable.

You and your team probably know more about your sector, business, service or product than we ever will and this means that you will see the research interviews through a different lens. Observing the sessions with our research and design team will enable you to see behaviours in new light, understand why people are doing certain things and empathise with attitudes.

Extending the invitation

Maybe you are the person responsible for commissioning research so you’re already keen to observe, but what about your team and other stakeholders in your organisation?

When we ran research exploring the student experience for University of Surrey we used a lab so that multiple people could observe. The project team were able to invite stakeholders who wouldn’t otherwise have been involved.

Because each of the observers brought a different experience and agenda to the session they were able to see the research through their own lens – development, marketing, UX design, and content. At the end of a day of watching just five depth interviews the group were buzzing with ideas and inspiration for new ways to achieve goals.

Matt, Head of Digital Channels at Surrey, told me: “It’s rare for some of the stakeholders in content and marketing to meet our audience so it was hugely valuable for us as a group to get inside their minds. It made people challenge assumptions, explore language and gave us an opportunity to reflect on the way we do things. It also re-surfaced some things we already knew about but that had slipped down our priority list!”

Similarly when we ran research for a high-street retailer, the product team prioritised issues on a wall throughout the day and the developer made changes and improvements to the site as we worked.

Stephanie is Programme Lead Content Design for Scope. She told me that when content designers have observed Scope’s in-house user research, it has refreshed their commitment to the work they are producing. Seeing the direct emotive response of the people they are writing for helps re-connect content teams with the purpose of the work.

Observing research sessions will enable you to:

– Reconnect with users and re-energise a team
– Add context to the research team observations
– Interpret user behaviours and attitudes based on your service expertise
– Spot new opportunities
– Collaboratively prioritise insight
– Dig into the insight by asking questions at the end of each interview
– Help refine the interview guide as the day evolves, so we focus on the most valuable areas

Launching our new research lab

To make it easier to tap into the value of observed research, we’ve invested in building a research lab at our new studio in the Arnolfini on Bristol’s waterfront with space for up to ten people to observe. If you’d like to work with us on a research / design project or if you’d like to hire the lab please get in touch, details below.

Policy Lab: user research and prototype testing

We're running the research in Jobcentres across the UK

We’ve moved into a new studio and built a user research lab

You can even visit us by boat