Monthly Archives: November 2018

So Take A Look At Me Now

Here at Emerald we pride ourselves on our ‘Customer First’ approach when creating new and developing existing products. What does that mean? In short this means gathering insights from our users to further develop our offerings. Insights from users are often invaluable, as internal members of the business can fall into the trap of presuming they’re the end user and assuming that the customer will interact with products and services in the same way they do.

This is where gathering insights from our users can be like a breath of fresh air!
Getting the end user perspective can give us an idea as to what features users want from our products, what currently frustrates them, their usage behaviour and much more. This in turn reduces the risk element of any new or existing product development.

Now you have a bit of a background, we can begin to focus on the main topic: What to look for whilst observing a usability session.

Inviting colleagues who are not part of the user research team to attend usability sessions is not a new concept. This is something that is happening more frequently across different businesses. However, as a colleague with limited research exposure what exactly are you supposed to look for in these sessions? This blog aims to give an insight into observation techniques and other tips which will help you get the most out of your experience.


1.     It’s not always what the users say, but more what they do.

This is the golden rule of observation. However, don’t take it from me, this is also mentioned by Jakob Nielson who is a pioneer within the User Experience (UX) industry. His three basic rules of usability are:

  1. Watch what people actually do

  2. Don’t believe what people say they do

  3. Definitely don’t believe what people say that they may do in the future

There is arguably much more to be gained from the actual observation of user interaction, rather than their verbal interpretation of what they have done.


2.     Have an open mind…

This is important if you’re in the same room when observing the session!
It is human nature to feel passionate about things that you have been working on, and completely natural to take it personal when someone dislikes it. However, just as we can pick up on user behaviour, users can also pick up on our behaviour. If a user dislikes an element of the product that you are invested in, try to avoid making this known. Although this is mainly the responsibility of the moderator, it is also your responsibility as an observer to control as much as your personal bias as possible as this may deter the user from providing further feedback. After all, all feedback is valuable!


3.     Body language

When the user is interacting with the product, do they look confused? Disinterested? Enthusiastic? You should be vigilant in listening to the participant, but you should also focus on the nonverbal behaviours such as posture or facial expressions.
This non-verbal data can be tied in to the other qualitative feedback you observe to give a more well-rounded view of how exactly the user was feeling during the test.

4.     Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important elements for us as researchers and particularly for design thinkers because it allows us to truly understand and uncover the latent needs and emotions of the people we are designing for.

Empathy is a social process by which a person has an understanding and awareness of another’s emotions and/or behaviour and can often lead to a person experiencing the same emotions.

On this definition alone experiencing a product through the eyes of the user should add further context to the conclusions you draw from the session.  At the bottom of this blog is a link to a short video from Brené Brown who discusses the importance of empathy. I suggest you check it out!


5.     Note taking

Lastly, to get the most out of your session you’ll also need to know how to take effective notes. I won’t go in to the ins and outs of note taking as it could be blog in its self, however below I’ve listed the do’s and don’ts when capturing insights from usability sessions.

– Record as many key observations/findings as possible.
– Group your notes based on the scenario / web page / section being tested.
– Write down key quotes from participants to illustrate key issues.
– Note timings alongside each finding (so you can go back through the recordings).
– Write a quick summary of observations / findings between each session.

– Take more notes than you need to – focus on the research objectives.
– Take notes copiously if you are running the session.


So, there you have it! I hope this blog has given you a better understanding of observational techniques, and don’t forget to check out the Brené Brown on Empathy clip I mentioned earlier.



Author: Milan Patel

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