Open for Open Questions - UX London 2014

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Many design and usability research methods cater for delving into a focused topic: You set a goal, establish hypotheses, gather data and gain insight to help create the proof, story, a view point, strategy, or whatever you are looking for – within the given budget and time. However, there can be situations where your research may focus too much on individual ‘trees’ that it cannot provide much information about the ‘forest’. For instance, what if you have perfect usability test data to prove the effectiveness of your design, but your client may be more interested to know what types of people would buy the product (and get disappointed to hear that you don’t know)? What if your polite research participants never want to talk with you about negative things about your design? This talk will share a few anecdotes exemplifying the importance of factoring in the space when exploring broader viewpoints to the user research questions, through informal social encounters, serendipitous interactions, and activities that are designed for cross-examining their results.

Text of Open for Open Questions - UX London 2014

  • Its great to stand here a/er spending a year working for one person more or less [maternity leave] even though it was the greatest interac=on experience ever. I am interac=on designer by educa=on and major parts of my career. 1
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  • But I have done a fair bit of research along the way. Depending on who you talk to there are many terms used to describe the process that we go through to acquire the informa=on and insights on people. So today I would like to talk about what I like to remind myself in planning these types of research. Which I learned from my own experiences in the past, rather than what I learned in the book. 3
  • If you work in a rela=vely big organiza=on, the news about a new research project is analogous to that of a party. While you have the limited =me, money and resources, people are all the more eager to learn from your undertaking. Marke=ng may want to know what is the key marke=ng message about the product should be, the roadmap team wants to know the demographic informa=on of the most likely buyers and rejectors with quan=ta=ve evidences, strategy team wants to know how this product performs over the compe==on in what way, SW team and design teams want to know how to improve the product, and Finance team wants to know the op=mal pricing. 4
  • It is not this bad all the =me, but I did see a project geOng named Crystal ball as there were a lot of expecta=ons from this single study. I am sure people manage such situa=ons in various cunning ways, but when I faced situa=ons like this, I was very stressed partly because I was nave enough to think that I should try to cater for everyones needs. But soon enough you become wise enough that some combina=ons just wont work, or the complexity of the research increases to the extent that it becomes an impossible mission. 5
  • And what about people who par=cipate in your study? This is from a study I ran a couple of years ago for a brand new product we were developing, in prepara=on for the launch. With all things considered, 5 dierent ac=vi=es were needed, including warm-up. We had the 9 dierent features of this new product that we had to demonstrate to the par=cipants, get them to understand, form opinions over them, and ash out their own crea=ve expressions for the product at the end. What does that mean in terms of =me? 6
  • About 6 hours long. Which is more than twice long as the typical focus group sessions. Our EVP sent me a worrying email if this would be a valid method to get people engaged =ll the end. It is true that if you consider people as passive par=cipants answering simple ques=ons that most people wont be able to keep their spirits high for this long, without just going yeah, yeah, yeah. Having used co-crea=on methods several =mes before, I was condent it would work. But this is the point where the research planning becomes an interac=on design challenge: Keeping people engaged and intelligent while trying to cater for the expecta=ons from the various stakeholders. I always ask myself: are we truly learning the balanced view from the research? Is there any beder way to achieve the same? User research results for the early phase of product or concept 7
  • So here are a few points that I consider as reminder for myself in user research planning. First reminder is to ask yourself if you get to understand how people feel in rela=on to your product or service. It may sound like a common sense, but it can be easily overlooked. 8
  • I lived in India for 2 years, leading Nokia Research Center in Bangalore my team worked on a number of projects that were relevant to India. 9
  • One of the topics we picked up was the problem of na=ve languages use in digital media. India is an extremely mul=-lingual country. There are more than 1.2 billion people in India, using more than 122 languages. There are 22 ocial languages in India with scripts. There is no exact sta=s=cs but it is guessed that around 10% of popula=on is literate in English though the number must be on the rise. 10
  • Indian language scripts are very sophis=cated and have a very dierent wri=ng logic. When alphabets are combined to form a syllable, it typically changes the shape. 11
  • So there is a considerable dierence between handwri=ng and digital text input. But in order to be able to type on keyboard, user needs to have a fairly good memory of the alphabe=c table to make the combina=ons for the syllables. 12
  • And you may think that everyone remembers alphabets! I thought so as well. When we gave the task of wri=ng alphabets which is more than 50 more than half of par=cipants could not complete the task. Par=cipants were all educated at least 8 years. 13
  • It was worse on mobile phones one key typically needs to be assigned with 6-8 characters. This lady was our xer in Bareily, where we conducted our usability study. She is from the untouchable cast but university educated and could read and write English. But none of her social network did. And hindi in her phone was impossibly dicult to use. So as the result she never used tex=ng on mobile phone. So the reality that we saw around us was quite clear: People do not use tex=ng in the local language, period. What about Internet in general? If you are not able to read and write English, the world of Internet is a very small place indeed. 14
  • We took on familiarity as the important theme of the design development to minimize the learning curve and lower the barrier to adop=on. And touch screen because it was the future and to avoid the logis=cal and usability problems of physical keymat. 15
  • So we ran various tests with a wide range of par=cipants to improve the design from usability of the onscreen keypad to the language content itself. 16
  • While we were working on this, Nokia launched a product called Nokia C3 in 2010. It sold very well especially in India. However we heard that there were a lot of complaints about Qwerty with Hindi keymat print. 17
  • The product had the Inscript Hindi input, which is the government standard for qwerty keyboard. While the minority of consumers who were able to use Inscript welcomed the product, the majority found it annoying. On one hand, each key became too crowded and made it extra dicult to nd the key you want. But the real underlying reason seemed to be that buyers of this product do not want to be seen that they need Hindi. Implying that they can communicate in English, which is a thing to be proud of. We ended up recalling the product, replacing the keymat with just English. 18
  • Of course, a/er this we got a lot of ques=ons if it is worthy of inves=ng in na=ve language input tool. But as we have been asking our varied par=cipants to the study how this would change their life we were luckily well equipped for the answers, even though it was not a major ques=on when we were planning the usability research. There was a strong sen=ment that its a language that enable communica=on with their most close families, but the need to use it on mobile phone was marginal. We saw it as a chicken and egg problem. Literary professionals saw this giving a great educa=onal value. So we were able to pitch it to the product team that its one of the priority implementa=on for Asha touch product line. But we