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Diary Studies, Contextual Inquiry, Focus Groups

This video continues our discussion on some of the popular tools in the UX research toolkit.  In part 2 we provide tips on when and how to use diary studies, contextual inquiry, and focus groups.

In Part 1 we covered usability testing, heuristic evaluation, and card sorting.   And whereas card sorting is a great tool to use in early development of your product or interface, diary studies are a great tool to use very late in development or even after launch.

Diary Studies

This is because diary studies provide a way to get feedback on user experience over time.  They are called longitudinal studies because they take place typically over a week or two in which users are prompted with questions in which they respond during their day to specific types of prompts.   Users can provide pictures, they can provide text,  or they can provide chat, depending upon how the diary study is set up.  They give great insight into the way in which a user engages with the product or the interface as he or she is learning it over a period of time and also insights into the environment in which the user is engaging with the product. So, diary studies are a great tool for learning about the immersive experience of users.

Contextual Inquiry

Another tool in our UX research toolkit is called contextual inquiry or sometimes ethnographic research. This is a great tool to get information about your users and their environment even before the product is designed because it works through the process of shadowing somebody in the environment in which they’ll be using the product or interface or interviewing them on site where they work or play, wherever their environment is. You gain great insight into the user’s environment, what their needs are, what their goals are for whatever your product might be. The results of the research from contextual inquiry can provide information for the requirements for the product. Contextual inquiry is a great tool to use before you even begin product design or working with the current product to find out what is working and what is not working  or even the competitor’s product in a contextual inquiry so you can see where your opportunities are,  where the pain points are with the current product, and the user’s experience with it and then gather requirements to build a new product.

Focus Groups

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned focus groups yet, and the answer is yes, focus groups are definitely in our UX research toolkit.  Many people who are prospective new clients come to us saying, “We’d like to engage with you to do some focus groups,” and we respond by saying, “Tell us what your goals are in terms of your research.”  Oftentimes people come with the idea that they’re going to do focus groups because that’s all they know and of course they’re extremely popular in market research, so we explore what makes sense in terms of the best tool or combination of tools that work for the prospective client, so it may or may not be focus groups.

When we conduct focus groups, however, we like to do user task-based focus groups.  We don’t just bring people in to talk about something, but we get them to engage with the interface or the product or paper or anything that reflects wherever the product is in development and get reaction to hands-on experience with it.  This is because they’re speaking from what they have just learned or understood rather than from what they think they might like to do.  So, there is a place for focus groups, but, like any other type of research plan, it really depends on what your goals are for the research about user experience and which particular tool or combination of tools is going to be the most useful and productive for you.

So, the bottom line is: Every discussion of a user research project begins with what you want to learn and then matching those objectives to the right tools that fit your budget.  Every situation is different and matching the right tools to meet the needs of the project and the budget is what helps determine the best single tool or combination of tools for every project.