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How to conduct user research by Joel Marsh

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Chapter 5. How to Observe a User

Watching someone is one thing. Observing a user for research purposes is a whole other thing. If you don’t know the difference, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Remember: Your Memory Sucks

Use video, take notes, have two people observing, or all of the above, because as my mom would say, “You can’t trust your memory any farther than you can throw it.” But that’s a confusing metaphor in this case, so just make sure you record your research as it’s happening. Don’t rely on memory.

Read Between the Lines

Users often have body language or facial expressions or say, “hmmm...,” or move their mouse in a way that reveals their thoughts and feelings during the test. If you have video of the screen and their face, you can take advantage of those real-time clues later.

Watch How They Choose, Not Just What They Choose

One of the most common mistakes for new UX designers is to ignore the process and only record the results.

The more the user doesn’t do what you expect, the more useful the testing is. If you just end up with a page full of notes that say “complete” and “incomplete,” you still know nothing. Instead, record how they navigate to the solution, why they think it is where it is, what clues they used to find it (or not), and whether they think they have completed the task or not.

Do Not Help

It will be very tempting to help a user who is confused or uncomfortable because they don’t understand. Resist that temptation! The moment you help a user, or give them a ...

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