User research

Why doing user research first is right

I have found an interesting column from Donald Norman

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about how the role of user research in the software/web development process, though I have to say that I disagree with the premise of his article

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“How many times have you had to fight hard for the ability to do field studies and other observations at the very start of the project? How many times have you patiently explained that taking time now would be rewarded by faster time to market overall? And how many times were you successful? The HCI community has long complained about product processes that do not allow time to start with good observations.

The more I examine this issue, the more I think that it is we, the HCI community, who are wrong. This includes me, for I have long championed the “study first, design second” approach. Well, I now suggest that for many projects the order is design, then study.

Let’s face it: Once a project is announced, it is too late to study what it should be – that’s what the announcement was about. If you want to do creative study, you have to do it before the project’s launch. You have to be on the team that decides what projects to do in the first place – which means you have to be part of the management team…

In my view, Donald Norman is only half right … I agree with him when he says that lengthy, time-consuming field work must take place before the project started, but even with the ball running and in a limited time frame it is possible to know a lot about the users Sunshine Cleaning dvd .

It’s just a matter of stop wearing the hat of the “scientist” and rather embracing a more pragmatic approach Yûgiô Duel Monsters: Hikari no pyramid trailer

, where a bit of user research is better than no research at all. This becomes true especially when product development doesn’t start “out of the blue” and when a previous version of the product is available, and/or other competitors have already launched similar products!

I just want to tell you a recent case where this happened in a real product development process.

We had to come with a User Experience proposal for the pitch to an important kitchen brand in UK. We wanted to know how people decide to buy a particular kitchen brand; what are the key factors that make them decide to buy one particular kitchen?

We started interviewing some people who recently bought a kitchen in the agency, but then we realised we had more questions than answers. In a few hours, we decided to post an online questionnaire on a couple of related mailing list – we mostly employed open ended questions because we wanted to gather as much data as possible.
We ended up with a lot of useful insights

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A first pattern of self-directed people who like to be in control of the buying process – where they choose all the details of their kitchen, they calculate how much it would cost, etc.

The second pattern was instead of those who prefer to be guided by an expert (an interior designer) in choosing the right model and accessories.

My point is that in a few days we ended up knowing much more about our users and we could design the user experience driven by these insights. And all of this happened in the lapse of three days!

In conclusion, I think that we – user experience and user centred design practitioners – should be much more positive of our impact in the product development process.