Be careful, your mind might be blown if you haven’t dived into the wonderful world of design researcher until now.
Newsletters, magazines and 5 minute UX articles are all good to get you started or quickly unstuck, but they can never match the years of hard work and experience one or more researchers dedicate to a study and in the end to a publication. The findings and knowledge they share are both great for strengthening your generic design, research or even human behavior understanding skills and for getting inspired or possibly applying them directly to your projects.
There are different ways of starting a project, be it a feature, a new product, interface or physical product. One does usually get a briefed by upper management or through field studies and start all sorts of analyses: benchmarks, SWOT, mood boards, it depends really. One thing I learned was to also have a look at research and create a sort of informal literature review. These are a few basic articles, mostly generic, that could prove surprisingly useful for a variety of projects.
The freshness of cultural probes
Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty — Gaver, William, Boucher, Andy, Pennington, Sarah and Walker, Brendan
Design can get tedious, especially while you are in the middle of a multi-stakeholder research study, resulting in a large amount of data, ultimately needing to morph into an idea. That’s when a cultural probe comes in and informs (not drives) the process, qualitatively. To put it simply, it is a dairy made for your users to fill in, in order to get further insights into their everyday passions, difficulties and needs. You must however put serious thought if you wish participants to be engaged. I did say diary, but it can take any form: a board game, a camera to take photos, every day tasks, etc. If done right, the stories you will collect will prove extremely valuable when choosing a design path. The paper.
Socially responsible behavioral influence
Design for Socially Responsible Behavior: A Classification of Influence Based on Intended User Experience Nynke Tromp, Paul Hekkert, Peter-Paul Verbeek
The product, feature, or interaction that you create will eventually affect users’ behavior to some degree. It is, therefore important to reflect upon the effect that these have upon people’s lives before releasing them. Will these annoy an already busy and impatient population, or will they bring some ease of mind to your users ? Should they force or “seduce” people into using it, by adhering to their already existing behaviors and norms?. Perhaps the second option is not always viable; an app that tries to minimize phone usage should have some degree of forceful interaction (?). All these are ultimately influencing our society and the authors are providing great findings and a framework for analyzing the impact a product might have in people’s behavior. The paper
Learn about users by looking at their objects
A Day in the Life of Things in the Home- Andy Crabtree, Peter Tolmie
This article was a gold mine that a friend of mine found while working on a project about the Internet of Things. The authors describe how their curiosity for taking the “things” in the Internet of Things lead to interesting findings. It is however not about the objects themselves as these might vary depending on personal preferences. The study looks into the interaction that people have with these objects and the way these communicate certain patterns of usage, mapped out. They analyzed peoples’ interactions with appliances, furniture, books, screens and much more. The study itself might not be relevant to your project directly, but it clearly shows how crucial it is to look beyond clicks, heat maps and questionnaire answers to discover interesting behaviors. Imagine creating a map as the one below for a number of users and then overlapping them to see commonalities as design opportunities. The paper
Reflect on product values and interactions
Interaction Relabeling and Extreme Characters: Methods for Exploring Aesthetic Interactions- J.P. Djajadiningrat, W.W. Gaver, J.W. Frens
Product values will probably be a result of early user research, market and sales data iterated as the product takes shape. There are, however moments when you might ask yourself whether things can be done differently, whether you are focusing on the right things at that point. This paper will force you to explore possibilities by mapping a mechanical products’ interactions to your possibly over complex electric or even digital one. It might sound and feel silly in the beginning, it will be rewarding and fun in the end. You might discover areas that you haven’t focused on yet, think about what features are facing the user directly, because of the physicality of the mechanical product and ultimately realize what are the strengths and weaknesses of yours. All these while considering extreme users and use cases that will push the boundaries of your imagination and creativity. The paper
B J Fogg’s behavioral model
A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design — BJ Fogg
This one is a must. If you don’t have the time to read all of them and wish to pick one, I suggest this one. B J Fogg a widely used framework for analyzing behavioral changes. In the end, as I said before, your product, as simple as it may be, will imply a change in users’ behavior. There are three main factors that contribute to change: motivation, ability and a good trigger. These can be used differently depending on context and are unfortunately the only things that most people take from the paper. The formulas and graphics are great to start with, but they do not ensure a successful behavior change, when it comes to people adopting your product. Read into the insights the author is sharing and you will start understanding how complex our minds are and that you need to put a great deal of thought to alter them, even a bit. The paper
Ethnography and Field Methods
Ethnographic Field Methods and Their Relation to Design — Jeanette Blomberg
If you ever wished to read about classic interview and field study practices, you came to the right place. This article is rather long and it might be difficult to read to be hones, but it has an incredible amount of value for junior designers and researchers. Even though it was published in 1993, the concepts discussed might just be your building blocks in the world of ethnography and participatory interviews. It describes both the general process of conducting field studies and specifics to follow while taking an interview for example and observing the flow of the conversation. Not everything might make sense or seem useful in the beginning and some might pop-up when you find yourself in a tough spot. The paper
There is much more to these topics, since each one of them can be researched in particular. For example, there are dozens of articles around cultural probe usage in which teams applied the basic theory differently based on their context. Take 20 minutes every day to read an article, close to your projects’ themes and you will be surprised by the amount of ideas pouring in. You will also be surprised how they are slowly connecting, awarding you with a much deeper understanding of behaviors, methods and human motivations.
Who knows, maybe you will get inspired enough to be a pioneer in your field as well and share the knowledge with the rest of us.