Week 1 - September 27, 2016

Lecture’s Learning Objective

to be able to discover user needs using participant observations and 


Finding potential user needs

Why needfind?

Make something people want
    - Y Combinator's Motto

Example Question

Attempt 1: “What do you need?”

  • Positive: It’s an open ended question

Attempt 2: “What problems do you have with [X]?”

  • Primes the participant to think about [X]
  • Reveals attitudes of incompetence

Attempt 3: “What can I build for you all that would fulfill your needs?”

  • Jumping to solutions (Negative)
  • This is an AntiPattern


Participant Observation

You can observe a lot just by watching
    - Yogi Berra

Shadow the participant/client in their normal day of work to identify possible areas of improvement.

This approach is often more fruitful than asking the questions above.

What should we strive to learn by participant observation?

  • Tacit (Unspoken) Knowledge
    • e.g., truck drivers have big fingers
  • “Deep Hanging Out” (Genevieve Bell, Intel)
    • learning my immersing yourself in the client’s environment
A few questions to answer
  1. What do people do now?
  2. What values and goals do people have?
  3. How are these particular activities embedded in a larger ecology
  4. Similarities and difference across people
  5. ...and other types of context, like time of day

Observation Technique: Be an Apprentice

  • Set up a partnership with the people to be observed
  • Play the role of a naive novice – don’t interject with your “expert” opinions.


Scheduling interviews facilitate depth

  • Allows the participant to think about their needs and the topic of the interview

Planning is invaluable

  • Don’t go in with a

Create a “Field Guide” (Steve Portugal’s insights)

  • Introduction and participant background
  • Main body
  • Projection/dream questions
    • “Blueskying”
  • Wrap Up

Choosing Participants

  • Representative of target users
  • May be current users of a similar system
Approximate if necessary
  • May not be ideal, but better than nothing
    • e.g., getting computer science students when developers are unable to be participants

Conducting an interview

  • Introduce yourself, explain your purpose
  • The interview is about them, not you!
  • Begin with open-ended questions

Silence can be golden!

What are bad questions?

  • “Is the daily update an important feature to you?”
    • Is not an open-ended question - lend itself to yes/no
  • “Would you like stores with less clutter?”
    • Has an obvious answer
    • Participant behavior might differ from their answer
  • “What would you like in a tool for [X]?”
    • Getting to a feature request
    • Open-ended

Other types of questions to avoid

  • What they would do/like/want in hypothetical scenarios
  • How often they do things
  • How much they like things on an absolute scale

Do a Trial Run and a Follow up

Photos are powerful reminders

{Photos + notepad} can approximate fidelity of audio/video if done well.

What are the gems?

  • You’ve uncovered a surprise or found what is missing
  • You can explain why people do unusual things
  • You want to tell others about what you have learned