Over the last fortnight I’ve been observing User Research with my team, and it has been quite an eye-opener.
I began writing about it, and the initial post ended up quite long. After testing it on some (internal) users, I’ve split the post down so this is now part one, in a series of three posts about User Research, from the point of view of someone who hasn’t been involved in this kind of thing before.
We’re at the point in our Discovery phase where we’ve made a bunch of assumptions about our users and their needs, and gathered information around these assumptions from various sources – on- and off-site analytics, existing literature and research, social media, our service desk tickets, and on-site surveys.
Now it’s time for us to talk directly to some USERS.*
* Not all of the people we interview are necessarily users of the current NHS Choices service. Some of them might be potential users.
User Research like this isn’t new to us. NHS Choices has had a dedicated Research team since 2007, but it’s in the last year or so that we’ve really started to more tightly integrate the work that the researchers do into our delivery cycle. This is the first time we’ve involved the whole of the multidisciplinary transformation team in observing and note-taking for the research sessions, doing the analysis and deciding on next steps within a couple of intensive research days.
Who do we interview?
For the two topics we’re focusing on right now – we’ve been talking to two distinct groups of people
- parents of children who’ve had chickenpox in the last three months
- people who sought a new dentist in the last three months
We make sure we talk to a mixture of men and women from different socio-economic groups, of different ages, and with differing levels of internet skill.
We ask some quite detailed questions, so it’s good to get participants who have had a relatively recent experience (hence the three-month time window) as the experiences they’re recalling will tend to be more accurate.
We use some dedicated participant recruitment agencies to source the specific people we want to interview. We supply a spec, such as the parents described above, and the agency finds a selection of those people. Obviously there’s a cost attached to this service, but the recruitment can be time-consuming, and it would be difficult to find a big enough cross-section of people ourselves. Outsourcing this to an agency frees up our researchers to focus on the actual research itself.
We do some interviews in the participants’ own homes – interviewing people in their own environment gives us a much better sense of how people look for information and where this fits into their lives. Also we get to meet participants who would not want to go to a viewing facility.
We also do interviews in a dedicated research facility – these are the ones that the rest of the team and I have been observing.
We’ve used a couple of facilities so far, one in London, and SimpleUsability in Leeds – just a five minute walk from our Bridgewater Place office.
Our interviews have been one hour long. The participant sits with a researcher – who conducts the interview – and a note taker in the interview room. The note taker might be another researcher or other member of the team – we’ve had UX architects and service desk analysts taking notes in our sessions.
With the participant, the researcher and the note taker in the interview room, the rest of the team are behind a one-way mirror with the sound piped in, observing the whole show.
And yes, with the one-way mirror, it fell to @seashaped and myself to make all the obligatory unfunny gags about being in a police interrogation scenario…
The interviews are based around a Topic Guide prepared beforehand by the researcher. This is based on input from our previous research, and includes specific subjects around which we want to learn more. The whole team feeds their ideas into the Topic Guide.
The interviews aren’t run strictly to the guide though – we’re talking to people about their lives, and the health of them and their families, so naturally the discussion can wander a little. But our researchers are great at steering the discussion in such a way that we cover everything we need to in the interviews.
We decided not to put any prototypes in front of users in the first round of research. We’re trying to learn about users’ needs and their state of mind as they’re trying to fulfil those needs, so we didn’t want to bias them in any way by putting pre-formed ideas in front of them.
We did run a card-sorting exercise with users in the first round of Dental research – getting the participants to prioritise what would be most important to them when searching for a new dentist, by letting them sort cards.
We had a camera set up for the card-sorting exercise, so we could all see it clearly, without crowding around the mirror in the observation room.
As the interview takes place, the note taker is busy capturing all of the insights and information that come up. As the participant talks, the note taker captures each individual piece of information or insight on a separate post-it note. This results in a lot of post-its – typically we’ve been getting through a standard pack of post-its per interview.
GDS have written in more detail about some note taking good practices.
Read more in part two about how we make sense of the many insights that come out of the user interviews.