20 (Alternate) Ways to Focus on Users


Many web professionals know about certain ways to focus on users. The most popular methods surely include usability tests1, card sorting2, personas3, surveys4, and watching current research5, and they mean valid approaches to enable products and services that actually work. The following list aims to show some alternative methods towards more useful products.

Note: This article is based on own usability work and experience, but several methods have also been inspired by IDEO’s commendable Method Cards6 (order at William Stout7). Many thanks to IDEO8 for “fair use” permission.

  1. Activity analysis: Observe an activity in a situation as natural as possible, and compile all tasks, actions, objects, performers, and interactions being part of that process in order to create activity models and to find key issues.
  2. Anthropometric analysis: Use information of a wide range of users in order to determine the general appropriateness of products.
  3. Behavioral mapping:9 Track positions and movements of people within a space over time in order to determine spatial behaviors.
  4. “Be your customer”: Ask clients to describe and outline user experiences in order to get to know and to contrast client perceptions.
  5. Character profiles: Observe people and create character profiles in order to develop “persona-like, typical customers”.
  6. Cognitive task analysis: List and describe all sensory inputs, decision points, and possible actions of users in order to understand perceptional, attentional, and informational needs, and to focus on system features that the user will find hard to learn.
  7. Empathy tools: Use tools like e.g. clouded glasses in order to experience products differently and to get a better understanding of users with special conditions.
  8. Error analysis:10 Document all things that might go wrong and determine the causes in order to develop an understanding of the interaction of design elements.
  9. Experience drawings: Ask users to draw experiences in order to determine how people conceive and perceive.
  10. Extreme user interviews:11 Ask absolute novice or expert users to examine their product use experiences in order to gain insight for improvements.
  11. Five Why’s:12 Ask five “Why?” questions in response to five successive questions in order to be forced to evaluate and articulate reasons for attitudes and requirements.
  12. “Fly on the wall”: Observe and protocol behavior within its context, staying on the sideline, in order to determine what users really do.
  13. Foreign correspondents: Ask for input from people in other countries in order to understand cross-cultural principles and issues.
  14. Historical analysis: Determine industry, market, and product trends in order to understand and project the development.
  15. Long-range forecasts: Think about future scenarios and their technological and social implications in order to “forecast” and anticipate behavior changes.
  16. Personal inventory: Document things that are important to people in order to get to know their lifestyles and activities.
  17. Role playing:13 Play the roles of stakeholders involved in design problems in order to increase the understanding of users.
  18. Scale modeling: Use scaled models14 and prototypes in order to understand spatial interaction.
  19. Scenario testing: Confront users with e.g. cards with probable future situations in order to determine the value of and reaction to design concepts.
  20. Social network mapping: Document and map the different ways of interaction between users in a group in order to understand relationships and their structures.

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20000319.html
  2. 2 http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/card_sorting_a_definitive_guide
  3. 3 http://www.cooper.com/insights/journal_of_design/articles/personas/
  4. 4 http://www.usabilitynet.org/tools/surveys.htm
  5. 5 http://www.humanfactors.com/
  6. 6 http://www.ideo.com/methodcards/MethodDeck/
  7. 7 http://www.stoutbooks.com/cgi-bin/stoutbooks.cgi/61457
  8. 8 http://ideo.com/
  9. 9 http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/sommerb/sommerdemo/mapping/behmap.htm
  10. 10
  11. 11 http://www.experientia.com/en/our-services/understanding/interviews-with-users/
  12. 12 http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385260954/
  13. 13 http://www.usabilityfirst.com/glossary/term_669.txl
  14. 14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale_model

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Jens O. Meiert is specialized in usable, high quality web design and development. He’s working for Google and is also involved in organizations like W3C (HTML Working Group), UPA, and IxDA.

  1. 1

    just great smash! i loved this post.

  2. 2

    Good article.

  3. 3

    Thanks for the great post, some of these methods are new to me.

    I would agree that usability testing and focusing on the user are key, but an overarching goal should also be to marry great content, usability and design so that the user can easily find and navigate your site as well as be visually appeased by the layout and design.

    I currently blog about web design, social media and e-marketing at http://www.onehalfamazing.com

  4. 4

    Great post guys. Also, first post :]

  5. 5

    That was a very good overview and inspirational inside in the topic on usability, thx!

  6. 6

    Thanks for the kind words – there even is a follow-up containing 7 additional methods.

  7. 7

    Very nice article, thanks. m(_ _)m

  8. 8

    Great thanks to you and IDEO crew for sharing that great info..

  9. 9

    This is what I asked wbout when I mailed you guys for a couple of days ago.

    Many thanks for bringing it up! More of these!

  10. 10

    Great post! Usefull like always ;) I’m becoming fan of you guys! THANKS!!

  11. 11

    another cracking tidbit of info, cheers Smashing Magazine!!!

  12. 12

    I’ll have to re-read the article. Yup, a couple of comments are very “spammish”.

  13. 13

    Thanks for highlighting my B&A article on card sorting. There’s another artifact that might be of interest called a Task Analysis Grid (TAG). We use this to keep the product focused on users/customers – http://toddwarfel.com/archives/the-task-analysis-grid/

  14. 14

    An awesome post Smashing Magazine, very helpful for those of us demanding more from our own design/developing!

  15. 15

    Thanks alot for that list, alot of things are familiair but there`s always a few gems in there I hadn`t heared of.

    Now for a post that gives us tips on how to “sell” the use of these techniques to management :D

  16. 16

    Thanks for the kind feedback; Todd, thanks for the TAG reference!

    • 17

      Posted on How about Storm Crash?Just a tgouhht.It would be better if we could see him.References :

  17. 18

    ntotodomesticased September 15, 2011 Aww thank you, Amy! I wish you and Gary all the best, as well!!

  18. 19

    September 15, 2011 What a great post, Kristen. Although Will & I aren’t mraried or anything, I can definitely take a lot of this advice and apply it to our relationship as a couple.I’ve had girls my own age tell me the same thing about making my man cook for me so that I can retain a hold on him. I agree with you 100%! Although I don’t doubt for one second that if I asked Will to cook for me he would, but why should I!? I love him and I love to cook, and even though I only cook for him sometimes it’s nice to treat my man to a great meal.Another thing about the love languages I took the test online once but didnt really realize what I was doing haha. Would you recommend reading the book?Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance recently posted..


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