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A1: Needfinding – DUE Wednesday, Oct. 11 @ 12:30am

[A friendly reminder to get started early on all assignments! It takes a lot of time to schedule observations and interviews with people. Do not wait until the last minute.]

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 to 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 0: Choose your Team

All assignments for this class will be done in teams of 3. All teammates must be in the same studio.

For this assignment, you can split up the work however you like; not all teammates need to be present at every observation session. You can do it together or separately.

Step 1: Read the Design Theme

Carefully read the design theme for this year.

Step 2: Pick an Activity & Make a Plan

For this assignment, you will be observing people in the target population doing some activity they naturally do in order to find out potential needs that web-based technology might be able to fulfill. Ultimately you will design a web application for this class, but you don't need to restrict your observations to people using computers and the web.

Observe people doing tasks as they do it now, which may or may not involve any digital devices. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of analog tools can inspire ideas for the digital world. Because context matters, observe and interview people in situ: their environment, tools, and activities. If you have mobility limitations, perform your observations and interviews over email, phone, Skype, and/or video chat. If the activities you are interested in are tough to observe (maybe because they're infrequent), you can augment your interviews with diary studies.

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.

For this step, remember to pick one activity (see FAQ for details).

Step 3: Observe & Interview Three People

Select three people to observe (preferably in person, but remotely via videoconferencing can also work). Do not observe/interview your own team members.

Choose people who are not similar to yourself in some way (for example, they are studying a 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 one activity that you chose in the prior step.

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.

Tell the participants to perform the task as realistically as possible, while communicating to you as appropriate. Use the strategies we talked about in lecture to help you. Take detailed notes and use digital photographs (e.g., taken with your phone) or hand-drawn sketches to document activities, but do not use a video camera. Only still pictures and sketches. Try to understand why people are doing things the way they are by asking questions like, "Are there existing solutions that people aren't using? If so, why?"

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; or awkward/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 your TA will be able to understand what is going on without having observed alongside you.

Note: Using stock photos/art that you did not make is plagiarism and is unacceptable.

After each observation, ask the participant questions about what you observed. It should take you approximately 3 hours total to make all three observations if you have planned carefully. It will take longer if you haven't!

Step 4: Identify User Needs

Use your observations and findings to brainstorm a list of 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? Come up with as many user needs as you can that are based off your observations—feel free to brainstorm with your teammates or anyone else around you to generate as many interesting ideas as possible.

After you've generated a large brainstorm list, narrow down your user needs to at least 15 of the most insightful ones. Each idea should be substantive enough to become the basis for a quarter-long design and web programming project.

Your list 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 Jim takes the train home, there is no room for his bike and he has to wait for the next one. Jim 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 the phrases "needs a way to" or "needs to be able to" in your list of user needs.

Step 5: Point of View

Based off the user needs you found, write a Point of View (one or a few sentences) that describes a core problem in relation to the class's design theme. It should address a deep user need and your personal take on a high-level design strategy, but without offering any concrete solutions yet.

Refer to this document for a point-of-view about writing a Point of View (these may not match this year's design theme, though).

Step 6: Prepare a Needfinding Talk

Prepare a 3-minute talk about your needfinding approaches and results to be presented in studio. What activity did you choose to examine? 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. There are ~6 teams in your studio, so we need to keep these talks at 3 minutes so that we don't run over time.

Any (or all) of your teammates can give this talk in studio; it's up to you to decide.

Student Examples

  • These observations are great at describing processes and highlighting design breakdowns. It 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

(Note that these student examples may have used a different grading rubric.)

Assignment Submission

Submit a single well-formatted PDF file for your entire team with the following items concatenated within it (see the Student Examples section for how to format each item within your single PDF. Unlike the examples, you will be submitting only one PDF per team):

  • Names and PIDs of all of your team members. (If you forget someone's name, they will not get credit for this assignment.)
  • A description of your chosen activity, and an explanation of how the activity you chose relates to the design theme for the class.
  • Thorough descriptions of your observations for each of the three people observed.
  • 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.
  • 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 contributions.
  • A point-of-view statement based on your findings.

Submit your single formatted PDF in Gradescope to the bin for your studio section. Only one team member needs to submit on behalf of the entire team.

Also DUE in studio: You are responsible for giving a prepared 3-minute summary of your findings. (You do not need to turn in anything for the 3-minute talk.)

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. (For instance, if you met 8 of the 12 criteria, you get 8 points for this assignment.)

  1. The explanation clearly demonstrates relevance between activity observations and class theme.
  2. The observation description for each subject explains the activity.
  3. The observation description for each subject explains the subject's actions in the activity.
  4. The observation description for each subject explains the successes/breakdowns.
  5. At least 8 needs were submitted, excluding redundant needs.
  6. At least 15 needs were submitted, excluding redundant needs. (Note that you need 15 total non-redundant needs. You get a point for at least 8 – see above – and another point for all 15.)
  7. Needs specifically address breakdowns found in observations.
  8. Sketches or photos show subjects in the setting of the observed activity.
  9. Photo captions include successes/breakdowns.
  10. Point of View describes a core problem without offering a solution.
  11. Team gave a needfinding talk in studio.
  12. Team's needfinding talk was well-prepared, explaining their observations and the successes/breakdowns found.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do all teammates have to be present at all observations/interviews?

A: No, you can split it up however you like. If it's better for one teammate to each observe/interview one person, that's fine. Or all 3 of you can do everything together as a team.

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

A: You'll need to generate 15+ total ideas for your entire team. This list of needs is based on the three user interviews you conduct.

Q: How do I find people to interview?

A: 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. Remember that you can do observations/interviews remotely via Skype if you want.

Q: How many activities do I observe?

A: 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. However, if you chose several different activities, if you can make a case for why you couldn't choose the same activity and/or how choosing different activities improves the diversity of your generated ideas, then that's fine as well.

Q: Can I just talk to people and ask what they want or need?

A: No, you must observe people performing activities. This is because people are usually bad at simply telling you what they really want or need. The needfinding process should start with you observing people doing real activities and noticing problems and breakdowns.

Q: Do all teammates have to be present at the needfinding talk in studio?

A: Yes, all teammates should attend the studio and participate in the talk so that your classmates and TAs can get to know you. But if some teammates have an excused absence, that's OK. However, if none of your team members show up to studio, then you need to visit any TA's office hours to give the talk within a week, or else you will get 0 points for that part of the assignment.