Here's a little sneak peak of my latest post for the AtTask blog, to be posted soon. It's a look into contextual inquiry for the non-designer. Enjoy.
Solving the unseen problems
I’m a people watcher. I’m fascinated by the things people do and the not-so-obvious reasons why they do them. Even more so, I’m fascinated by the unseen problems you just might discover if you watch closely enough.
How many times, while preparing a scrumptious meal for your family, do you find yourself having to bend over to read measurements on the side of a measuring cup? Pour, bend over, measure. Pour some more, bend over, re-measure. It’s a bit of a hassle, but probably not something you ever thought to complain about, because it’s just, you know, “how it is.”
Well the good folks at one of my favorite companies, OXO, observed this problem while they watched people cook, and decided to fix it. They designed a measuring cup that allows you to read measurements from above, not just from the side. A simple solution to a problem no one ever thought to complain about — an unseen problem.
The AtTask user experience team does this sort of research often. It’s called Contextual Inquiry, and it is one of the major inputs into what we build and how we build it. Here’s some insight into how we do it.
We like to sit down with AtTask users (and non-users alike) in their natural work environments, right there in their cube. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about someone just by looking around their workspace — from stickies on the monitor, calendars and workflows up on the wall, the disorganized stacks of papers everywhere, or the papers neatly tucked away just where they belong.
Something we’ll often say when we sit down with people is simply, “teach us how you do work.” Through that process, we can gain insights into the problems that people may not ever think to vocalize. While users walk us though how they work, we can take their behaviors and what they say, in combination with their environment, to get a fuller picture of some of the difficulties they have, and uncover some of those unseen problems.
Goals, not tasks
An overarching theme in our design method is that it’s all about goals, not tasks. Tasks are simply ways to reach ultimate goals. We care why you’re doing what you’re doing. We want to get deep to the core of why you did that, what you’re trying to accomplish. As Nacho might say, we want to get to the “nitty gritty.”
So if in the future you ever hear us asking to come sit down with you and your team to learn how you work, please, let us come by. And let’s get down to the nitty gritty.