Assignment 2: Needfinding


As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just by watching. Watching how people do things is a great way to learn their goals and values, and come up with design insight. We call this needfinding. This assignment helps you train your eyes and ears to come up with design ideas. Your goal is to uncover user needs, breakdowns, clever hacks, and opportunities for improvement.

Step 1: Read the Design Briefs

Read the design brief for your studio. While you are reading through the briefs, think about anything in your daily life or in the life of your community that you can apply to that brief. Use the information from the brainstorming activity you did in class. Your brief will serve as a theme and yardstick for your work throughout the project sequence.

Step 2: Pick an Activity; Make an Interview & Observation Plan

You will ultimately be designing a web-based service or application for a mobile device (non-native apps, details to come), but you don't need to restrict your observation to people using computers and the Web. If you're designing for an activity that people don't currently use computers for, or where non-digital tools have benefits, then observe people doing the task as they do it now. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of analog tools can inspire ideas for the digital world. Where people are using software, remember to observe and interview people in situ -- using their computer, their software, in their environment, doing their activities. Context matters. If you have mobility limitations, perform your observations and interviews over email, phone, Skype, and/or video chat. If for whatever reason you're interested in activities that are tough to observe (maybe because they're infrequent) you can augment your interviews with diary studies (you may need to login with your UCSD AD login).

Make a list of types of people you might interview and situations you might observe to come up with design insights. Think about different types of everyday users, marginalized users, and extreme users. Also think about other stakeholders in the ecosystem. Think about the characteristics of these users.

For example, this IDEO design team was asked to redesign the grocery shopping cart. Their interviewees included not just everyday users, but also extreme users like professional shoppers and other stakeholders like store managers. Often, lead users or extreme users have come up with better solutions and creative tricks. Interviewing and observing marginalized users not only helps us create more inclusive designs, it also often highlights issues that everyone has to varying degrees.

Step 3: Select 3 Individuals to Observe

Select three individuals to observe. Choose people who are not similar to yourself in some way (for example, they are studying different discipline, working a different type of job, have a different family situation). ** Your goal is to observe the successes, breakdowns, and latent opportunities that occur when computers are used, not used, or could be used to support your chosen activity. Ask them to participate in this assignment and get permission from them. Be sure you coordinate with your participants to select a time that will be rich for observations.

Your three individuals do not, however, need to be representative of "the general public". It is perfectly valid to limit your observations to a specific niche or user group, if desired.

Step 4: Observe and Interview

Tell the participants to perform the task as realistically as possible, while communicating to you as appropriate. Utilize the strategies we talked about in lecture to help you. During the observation, take detailed notes and use digital photographs or sketches to document activities, but do not use a video camera. This is because your choice of moments to capture with a photograph or sketch is what is important, as it shows specific successes and breakdowns. You can also frame your observations through a lens of redesign of the activity you are observing by asking yourself questions like, "When, where, how, or why can’t someone use what is out there already for this activity?"

Remember, your photos or sketches are meant to highlight specific breakdowns or design opportunities.

A breakdown is when a user tries to do something and fails or does not know what to do. Breakdowns include slips, which are accidental; mistakes, where users have the wrong mental model; awkward or long interactions that just take too many steps. To effectively do this, caption each photo to explain what is being observed and describe the breakdown or design opportunity. Keep in mind that your TA will be evaluating you on these photos and captions; ask yourself if they will be able to understand what is going on without having observed with you. Note: Using stock photos/art is plagiarism and is unacceptable.

After the observations, spend 10 to 15 minutes interviewing your participants about the activity you observed. It should take you approximately two hours total to make all three observations if you have planned carefully. It will take longer if you haven’t!

Step 5: Identify User Needs

After observing people, go over your findings and use them to brainstorm a list specific user needs: opportunities for design innovation that would enable computers to better support the activity you observed. Think back to when you asked yourself, "When, where, how, or why can’t someone use what is out there already for this activity?" What does this tell you about the needs that they have?

All ideas are good ones at this stage; go for volume when you brainstorm and include as many people as you want to help you. Brainstorming is a group activity and should be fun! You are free to brainstorm with anyone around you to generate as many interesting ideas as possible.

Afterwards, narrow down your user needs to at least 15 most insightful ones. Each idea should be able to become the basis for a design project.

More than just features, the goals should be articulated as user needs. You are not looking for solutions yet: focus on user needs and goals only. An example of a need might be "Sometimes, when Scott takes the Caltrain home, there is no room for his bike and he has to wait for the next one. Scott needs a way to plan what train to take based on how much room is available in the bike car".

It is helpful to use to phrases "needs a way to" or "needs to be able to" as you list your user needs.

In Studio

In studio, you will give a 1 minute talk describing your approach to the assignment. What activity did you choose to examine? How did you examine it, with what methods? What major insights or breakdowns did you discover? What promising user needs were identified as a result? Do not print out your sketches or pictures, just use words so as not to consume time explaining a complicated scene or sketch.

Also in studio, you will form teams of three for your term project. No need to make arrangements in advance; everything will happen in studio.

What’s this for? A UX agency perspective

by Mike Davison, Community TA and UX Project Manager

Needfinding is probably the most important part of any UX Designer's arsenal. Without it, your design team could spend months designing a solution that completely misses the point. You will be surprised at how much you can learn, especially when you vary the audience.

Take the smartphone In all likelihood, you will have seen an elderly person press the screen harder and more slowly when it does not respond as they had expected. Needfinding research has suggested that this relates to 50s, 60s and 70s technology - the technology this age group are familiar with...this technology often does yield a different result if you press harder.

Why is this useful? Well perhaps we could develop interfaces that took into account the pressure the user applies, and not just where they apply it? How could we make the interface itself easier for the elderly user? Needfinding is a very powerful way to generate ideas.

Common "I wish" Feedback

The following statements are common feedback given on this assignment. We call these statements "I wish" feedback because they are a way to express things that you wish the assignment had contained. You could think of these as common problems to avoid.

  • The activity you observed isn’t clearly related to the brief you chose. Revisit this.
  • More thorough observation needed in order to identify opportunities for design.
  • Brainstorm more user needs.
  • Base user needs more on your observations.
  • Focus more on user needs rather than solutions.

Student Examples

  • These observations are great at describing processes and highlighting design breakdowns. This example also includes a staff suggestion regarding the method used: Observation example
  • These user needs are very thoughtful and do not focus too much on solutions: User needs example
  • These photos and captions clearly describe the activity being observed and explain the design breakdown or opportunity: Photos and captions example

Assignment Submission

Submit a single formatted pdf file with the following items concatenated within it (see the Student Examples section for how to format each item):

  • An explanation of how the activity you observed relates to the design brief for your studio.
  • Thorough descriptions of your observations for each of the three people observed. (Observation Quantity, Observation Breakdowns & Opportunities)
  • A total of three or more photos or sketches of a design breakdown or opportunity from your observations, ideally one photo for each person you observed. Remember: Each photo must have a caption that fully conveys the breakdown or opportunity. (Photos/Sketches)
  • A list of insightful user needs inspired by what you observed (at least 15). If you brainstormed with others, please include their names in your submission to recognize their contribution. (Ideation Quantity, Ideation Quality)

Submitted in studio, you are responsible for giving a prepared 1 minute summary of your findings. (Needfinding Talk)

. Submit your formatted pdf here

Evaluation criteria & Grading rubric

The rubric below contains criteria that are worth one point each and will be graded independently and in a binary fashion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this assignment have to be directly related to my studio topic?

Yes, your assignments for the rest of the quarter have to relate to your studio theme. Two reasons for this: designing for a brief is how the real world works, and you will benefit much more in your studio when multiple teams work on related projects.

Is this an individual assignment?

Yes. Each person will need to submit their own assignment, on an activity related to their studio theme.

Do I need 15+ user needs for each person I interview, or is it 15+ for all three individuals?

You'll need to generate 15 ideas for three individuals. This list of needs is based on the three user interviews you conduct.

How do I find people to interview?

Finding and interviewing people in this way can be daunting at first, but it is necessary in avoiding assumptions and in getting data about real people that exist in the world. As such, learning to recruit users to interview is a key goal of this assignment, as it will be important in the real world and research. You are free to come up with whichever methods or incentives for recruiting, but we suggest that you reach out to your friend group or other students in your studio to participate in your interviews.

How many activities do I observe?

In general, you should be observing three people performing the same activity. This can sometimes vary, depending on if your three participants are performing three different but thematically related activities.

How complicated does the activity have to be to require an interview of 10-15 minutes?

See the example assignments to give you an idea of the appropriate scope of the activity.