Earlier today I was part of an all day off-site workshop which included a role playing session. I was a bit skeptical of how valuable it'd be but tried to keep an open mind. Without giving away any big secrets, each small group member was assigned a persona complete with some background info, a photo, and other useful tidbits. The moderator then explained the scenario we were about to find ourselves in.

It was a little awkward at first, but before long I really felt like we were thinking like the members of the group we were trying to understand (as best we could). At the end I was surprised by how much more in touch I felt with this group of people we'd never met.

Originally I wondered why we should go to all this effort when a simple thought experiment would suffice. But it turns out that the act of playing a few scenarios out with others makes you think about things "in context" rather than looking in as an outsider might.

Now I find myself worried that we don't do this nearly often enough. I've participated in usability studies before, where you can watch someone up close and personal (thru the one-way glass). Those are also very enlightening. But I always found myself wondering why the participant was thinking they way were. This was different.

To walk a mile in your users' shoes is an exercise worth trying at least once.

Posted by jzawodn at December 12, 2005 11:14 PM

Reader Comments
# jc said:

Once upon a time, I made my living trying to get developers and their prospective users to talk to each other. The intent was to allow the developers to understand how the users worked and how their new software might respond to that. Equally, the intent was to convey to users that software development is not magic.

I found that, by far, the best approach was to sit developers down next to a few users and spend at least one full day watching, listening, and asking questions. Sitting in a few meetings listening to a few management-selected users attempt to verbalize about their work didn't even come close. (Try writing a baseball game if you've never seen it, but only listened to a few players talk about it.)

We often found that the act of explaining their behavior to a developer prompted users to suggest better, more efficient ways of getting work done. When adopted, this meant that the new software modeled that efficiency, not the old unquestioned routine.

Invariably, no one really wanted to do this, users or developers. Once done, though, both sides usually acknowledged its benefits.

on December 13, 2005 05:14 AM
# Joe Hunkins said:

This adds to my intrigue with what seems like a growing difference between Google and Yahoo.

Google's been great at predicting what people will want and giving it to them free. Yet they still keep users at arm's length. As user needs become more complex this relationship could sour fast.

Good for you, Yahoo, to invite users to the party.

on December 13, 2005 09:08 AM
# Mario E. Santoyo S. said:

Afternoon to you all :) I've been reading about DUX, UCD and many more acronyms related with the need of finding out what your users need. If any of you is interested in this subject let me give you some point to start yahooing for:

.- Ebay has a user program called Voices.
.- Primetime did about 4 years ago a note on IDEO's approach to product design, be specially attentive towards the "on hands" research part.
.- The book: "the inmates are running the asylum"
.- Grab some lectures on user segmetnation, traditional product development and design, etc.
.- Visit Scott Berkun's site and participate in his UX clinic.
.- Subscribe to the HCI-ACM forum.

Well, I hope this "pointers" might throw some more light into the subject...

on December 13, 2005 01:19 PM
# Dervala said:

It was good to have you with us at SYP, Jeremy.

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on December 5, 2007 08:43 PM
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