The Power of Observation in Requirements Gathering
By Cristina Northcott
I am consumer researcher by background. I started my career in marketing but quickly realised my passion lay in market research and user experience design. Studying how people think, feel and do is fascinating to me. I believe that without truly understanding your audience (or user), it is near impossible to design anything that is truly relevant.
There are so many ways to try and understand an audience. Surveys, focus groups, workshops, and in-depth interviews are just a few tools. Workshops are great forums to identify common pain points among audiences, but they rely on users remembering their past experiences. In my years as a researcher, users typically leave out a lot of relevant details when they are relying on their memories.
In this blog, I want to focus on the value of also including observing users in real time, trying to complete tasks, in the location where they normally do it. I will share a case study on how this approach yields much richer insights and leads to better solution design.
So, let’s get started…
Having good insights into what audiences truly desire, is the precursor into good design, and is what distinguishes great companies. Apple, for instance, disrupted the device industry by their passion for designing products people LOVE to use. They get the right balance of functional and experiential requirements.
So how do they do it? Embedded into their culture, is the practice of Human Centred design.
What is Human Centred Design?
Human Centred design is an empathy-based solution design process. It entails:
- Learning and empathising with your audience
- Identifying their pain points
- Ideating solutions to solve them
- Creating and testing prototypes and Minimal Viable Products (MVPs) with users, getting their regular feedback, before building and releasing the final product.
This approach is standard practice in the Start-up World. What Start-ups are striving for, is to find that solution (service or product) that is deemed so valuable by users, that they would be devastated if you took it away from them. Apple, Spotify, Uber, and Airbnb are just a few of these examples. What distinguishes these companies specifically, is the way they approach the Empathise and Define phases.
Requirements Gathering (Empathise and Define)
The reality is that I could write a thesis on each of the phases above, as there are so many ways to execute each one. However, gathering the right information in the Empathise and Define phases, will ultimately determine the trajectory and outcome of the solution.
At ECLEVA, these two phases are what we call the ‘Requirements Gathering’ phase. This relies on users telling us what they want and what their pain points are. We normally conduct these in workshop sessions with relevant stakeholders. Whilst a lot of great information gets gathered in these sessions, it is often the case that people are able to articulate what their exact problem is, and what they really need and want.
Generally, people are better at articulating what they need functionally but not so good at articulating what RELEVANT user experience (UX) elements they require to enhance the overall use of the solution. Yet they will be quick to complain about the UX elements, despite the relevant functionality being delivered.
In the case of Apple, their primary method of understanding users is observing them using products in context. Steve Jobs believed this approach provided significantly more useful information than just asking users what they want.
I am going to use a case study to illustrate this point.
Why people hate shopping centres
I spent many years researching how to improve shopping centre experiences. Mums with young children are a very valuable shopping centre target market, as they shop often and have a high spend per visit. This customer group, however, was also the most dissatisfied with shopping centres. This meant they aimed to shorten their shopping trip as much as possible. However, in retail it is a well-known fact that the longer a customer spends in centre, the more they spend.
We primarily relied on focus groups and large quantitative telephone surveys to try and understand the pain points driving their dissatisfaction. Focus groups were usually run in groups of 8 at a Market Researcher’s office and lasted about 1.5 hours. A moderator would ask lots of open ended questions and analysts would sit behind one way observation glass and take notes.
Group after group we collected a lot of information, but instinctively we still felt we were not getting to the heart of their dissatisfaction. For instance, we would hear repeatedly in groups that finding a car space was a major hassle for young mums.
This led to internal teams ideating ideas like pre-booking apps where young mums, for a small fee, could pre-book a spot near the entrance of the shopping centre. When tested, the market for this was limited, as whilst young mums spent a lot on necessities, they were also very budget conscious. They did not see the point of paying for a parking spot which was free for 3 hours anyway. What’s more, to administer this new service, would require more Centre Management Resources like additional security guards to ensure these spaces were not taken up by other shoppers. It would have also meant more admin for the Centre teams in refunding bookings, if mums booked a spot but then changed their minds. Designing a solution which would solve a problem for one party but introduced pain for others, was not feasible.
So, we adapted our research methodology to include observing customers in context. This meant we accompanied them on actual shopping trips. We would observe them and ask questions about why they did certain things and how they felt at certain moments.
What we leant was so much more insightful, rich and relevant. We were able to identify several other Moments that Mattered. Not only was finding a parking spot a major hassle, but there was myriad of other pain points never articulated in the focus groups. These included:
- Parking bays were often so narrow that they struggled to get their babies out of the car and get the pram ready. They would often dent the neighbouring car and would feel so guilty.
- They were often forced to park so far away from the centre entrance. This meant they struggled to get from their parked cars into the centre and had to push a heavy pram up several floors of a multideck carpark.
- They also had to try and avoid being hit by other cars trying to find parking.
Young mums were already so frustrated and exhausted even before they got into the shopping centre. The rest of the shopping trip also included a huge amount of other pain points, again not articulated in the focus groups. It was no wonder they wanted to leave as soon as possible.
With the additional data collected, the problem statement was redefined and development and operational teams started to redesigned the whole parking strategy. They introduced:
- Park assisted systems that inform shoppers where parking bays are available and how many. Not only young mums benefited from this but all shoppers.
- Dedicated ‘Parents with Prams’ parking bays close to the shopping centre entrances, which made mums feel like really valued customers.
- They designed wider parking bays, enabling parents to take out their children without denting the neighbouring cars.
- They painted pedestrian crossing lines which keeps motorists and pedestrians safe. Again, this not only benefited young mums but all shoppers.
Over time more enhanced functionality and UX features have been added to the parking experience. Tools like: ticketless parking; parking apps that use geo location to help you find your car at the end of your shopping trip; valet parking; electrical charging bays for hybrid cars; car washing services; and pre-booking spots at peak holiday periods are just a few others that offered.
So, what is the key message?
In addition to running workshops with users, it is also important to observe users trying to complete tasks in real time. Observing them means not only seeing HOW they go about completing the task but WHERE they do it, and WHICH device or tools they try to use. The power of observation can often yield richer information and help identify key Moments that Matter. This will in turn lead to designing solutions that solve user pain points and they enjoy using.