“You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching” at Science World

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In my second class, we took the fly-on-the-wall user research technique over to Vancouver’s Science World.  As a class, we first took a look at an exhibit that often puzzles visitors because it’s not entirely obvious how one interacts with it.  Simply put, it’s a table with two metal prongs located on each end with two buckets.  A small sign is mounted flush against the table, describing that the metal rods are transmitting sound which is amplified by placing the bottom of the bucket against them.  This exhibit is located among many other “hands on” exhibits.  Here’s a (very rough) sketch of the table:


The exhibit curator described their typical visitors; the many incorrect ways they interact with the table and wondered if we might have a few ideas on how to make it more obvious how it works. In less than 10 minutes, the class took a look around at some of the more successful exhibits, what visitors are doing in general in the space and then generated a number of ideas of how to better present the exhibit.  

Here’s what we came up with:

A simple observation exercise like this isn’t necessarily meant to solve for all pain points or even solve for them in the best possible fashion.  But it demonstrates the power of just taking a few minutes to sit back, absorb, and reflect on who is using a product and why; seeing if there’s a mismatch between that and its current incarnation; as well as thinking about how other similar products behave.  From that, you can identify the barriers that prevent users from having a successful interaction and then idea generation takes off from there.

In an ideal world, a designer would go through this process by conducting some ethnographic research; defining personas/goals; then iterating through some solutions and perhaps doing a bit of validation/testing.  But just because you don’t have time to do that doesn’t mean you need to forgo observation. Immersing yourself in the user’s world even for just a short time can pay off by helping to generate a pile of possible user-centered solutions.


Interested in the User Experience course I’m teaching? Here are more posts:

>The First Class: UX for the Real World

>The Second Class: Merchandizing in the Real World

>The Third Class: Learning from Whole Foods

>The Fourth Class: Usability Testing Tips

>The Fifth Class: Usability Audit/Report

>The Sixth Class: Lean Prototyping

>The Seventh Class: Prototyping as Storytelling

>The Eighth Class: Gamification prototypeMobile prototypeScrapbook prototype,  Kiosk prototype.

>The Ninth Class: Empathy & User-Centered Design


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