Understanding Users and Their Needs

This post came from the Aestiva Solutions quarterly newsletter, the Campfire. To subscribe, click here.

Happy Summer friends! We hope that this time of year provides you with long needed refreshment as well as the opportunity to catch up on important tasks.

About ten years ago, we realized that we were no longer 21 and not as closely in touch with the undergraduate student experience as we were in the early part of our careers. At the same time, we began to familiarize ourselves with the world of ethnography (the science of studying cultures) through researching students on their research needs.

Over the past decade, Aestiva Solutions has enjoyed working on several user needs projects, including the Study of Student and Faculty Habits for the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI), for which our toolkit approach was published in College & Research Libraries, a Hyku End User Usability Study for Hyku for Consortia, and are currently working with PALNI to develop a grant proposal on information seeking behaviors in the area of religion.

Eric conducting the Study of Student Habits at Butler University
We have learned so much about students through this work, and highly recommend you to embark on this work as well. Some tips for those of you who may want to conduct your own user testing:

  • Define your research questions. When we were first beginning our journey into usability and user needs work, we had the opportunity to talk with Arnold Arcolio, then a user researcher for OCLC. He gave us some of the best advice on this topic that we have taken into every study: “Clearly define your research questions. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life reviewing the data and finding interesting things.”
  • Less is more. In order to get interesting and relevant results, you don’t need to test 500 participants, just 5 to 20. (The Nielsen Norman Group suggests 5 for usability work and 20 for a quantitative user needs assessment.)
  • Make friends with your local IRB. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are federally required groups which oversee testing of human subjects at each school. Individuals who serve on IRBs can serve as great local consultants when learning about user testing.

Want to study your students, but are overwhelmed by the world of ethnographic research? Aestiva Solutions would love to work with you to design and implement a user needs or usability study specifically designed for your school or consortia. With the technology available to us, we can easily conduct remote testing and begin to help you better understand your users.

Ruth and Eric

Posted in User Experience.