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Assignment 1: User Research

DUE Thurs, Oct 17 at 11:59pm

This first team assignment forms the basis for your project, so you will be turning in some parts earlier during class times. This is necessary so your TA can give you feedback in class to make sure your project is on track. Here is the timeline:

  • Wednesday, Oct 9 - 8am - DUE: your chosen design prompt, chosen mobile app, and a draft of your user research methods (submit in-class using Google Forms)
  • Wednesday, Oct 16 - 8am - DUE: Problem Statement (write draft in Figma under the 'Problem Statement' section)
  • Thursday, Oct 17 - 11:59pm - everything due (submit in Figma)

What to turn in

You can work on your assignment draft in whatever format you like (e.g., Google Docs is useful for collaborating). You will be turning in your final assignment in Figma using the A1 template we've set up for you. See this playlist for Figma tutorial videos.

First, include the names and PIDs of all team members, or else those missing team members will get 0 points for this assignment.

Here is how we will grade this assignment, out of 10 total points:

  • 1 point: Background Section
  • 1 point: Research Methods
  • 2 points: Research Findings write-up
  • 1 point: Research Findings include appropriate photos or data visualizations
  • 2 points: Problem Statement
  • 3 points: APS (aesthetics, polish, and substance/storytelling)

(Note that APS counts for 30% of your grade because we want you to make something that will impress potential employers.)

Do not edit your Figma project after the due date or else it will be marked late and we cannot give you credit because of our no-late policy. If you want to make adjustments after the deadline, make a copy and edit that copy.

Details about each component

(See the relevant lectures for more details and examples.)

Background Section

This section should provide the relevant background for your project. It should address questions such as:

  • Which design prompt did you choose?
  • What existing mobile app are you planning to extend or redesign?
  • What specific type of user are you targeting?
  • What kind of tasks do you want them to perform better?
  • Most importantly, why did your team choose this idea? What personally motivated you? And why should a potential employer care about this specific problem you're addressing?

Write your background section so that it tells your project's story in a compelling way. In other words, don't just answer all these questions verbatim in bullet points. Tell a good story that you can pitch convincingly to an employer. Remember APS!

Research Methods

[Note that a draft of this part is due on Wednesday, Oct 9]

You will perform research to discover problems and needs that users in your target population have. You will get some time in class to perform user research on your classmates, but you should also plan to find participants on your own outside of class.

This section should describe how you conducted your research. Specifically, it should address:

  • What are your main research goals or questions? In other words, why are you performing user research in the first place (besides for getting a grade on this assignment)?

  • What research method did you choose? (See relevant lecture for details.) You can choose from:

    • direct observation
    • interviews
    • survey
    • data science
  • Most importantly, why did you choose this particular method? What are the strengths of this method for discovering what you need? Justify why this choice is appropriate for your goals.

  • How many participants did you get?

    • You cannot use your own team as participants. You can use your fellow COGS127 classmates, though, as long as you can convince us that they are in your target audience.
    • For the draft that's due on Wednesday, Oct 9, propose a plan for how many participants you would like to get. Your TA will approve or adjust this plan.
  • Why are these participants relevant to your design prompt? (e.g., if your prompt is about Uber/Lyft drivers, then you should choose people who have worked for those companies.)

A common question here is: How many participants are enough? or How much data is enough? (for data science). See lecture slides for details.

Research Findings

You will spend most of your time during this assignment actually conducting user research. This takes significant amounts of time, so you simply can't wait until the last minute. If you do a rushed last-minute job, you'll probably get zero points for APS.

Here are some tips for conducting your research:

  • Ideally have multiple team members do observations / interviews together so one person can be a dedicated notetaker or photographer. (That's not always possible, though.)
  • Get permission from people before taking their photo, since you may end up posting it online in your public portfolio.
  • You can also record audio using your phone to review later (good for finding key quotes), but get permission first.
  • If you want to send out a Google Forms survey or do interviews of your classmates, you can come talk to the TAs during in-class work sessions, and we will help coordinate.

Now write up your research findings. You can organize this in whatever way tells the best story. It should include components such as the following (not everything may apply to your project):

  • What were your main findings about your target users' frustrations, needs, or desires? Specifically:
    • What were the strongest findings that most or all participants reported?
    • What were some weaker findings that some participants reported?
    • What ended up being inconclusive or ambiguous?
  • What, if anything, was surprising about your findings that you didn't expect?
  • Good-quality photos of your research process and findings, especially photos of people (if relevant).
  • Present the outputs of your data analysis (if relevant), including tables, graphs, or summary statistics.
  • (Note that you get 1 point for including either appropriate photos or data visualizations since good case studies should mix relevant visuals with text.)
  • For surveys/interviews, were there any good quotes from participants? If so, include them in your write-up.

Your findings can take several forms. Here are some common kinds of findings:

  • Pain Points: What did users struggle with most when using relevant technologies, which can either be the mobile app you're targeting or other apps/software/hardware? What frustrations did they face? The more specific the better. Include photos or app screenshots showing what users struggled with.
  • Wishes and Desires: What did users really want that can't currently be done (or be done well) using current technologies?
  • Unexpected Behaviors: What user behaviors surprised you?

Most importantly, don't suggest any solutions yet. The findings of user research include problems and opportunities. You will begin thinking about solutions in Assignment 2.

Problem Statement

[Note that a draft of this part is due on Wednesday, Oct 16]

After you've finished writing up your research findings, you're ready for the all-important Problem Statement. This statement is so important that we make it due in class on Wednesday, Oct 16 so that your TA can give you feedback before you finalize it.

Here is a good definition (slightly reworded):

A problem statement is used to summarize who a particular user is, the user's need, and why the need is important to that user.

The Problem Statement takes what you've learned from user research and captures the exact problem that your project aims to solve and why it matters. It's one of the most important parts that employers read in your entire case study. Your problem statement should be one or two sentences. Refer to relevant lectures for how to write it. In general, it should ...

  • define both a target user group and their specific goal
    • This group should be specific so you can come up with an original solution (e.g., 'UCSD students' is too broad), but not so specific that your solution matters to very few people (e.g., 'my aunt Ethel' is too narrow)
  • define a core problem experienced by the user group
    • This core problem should come directly out of the strongest findings from your user research
  • show how that core problem matters to the user's life in a meaningful way
  • not propose a solution yet
  • be easily understandable by non-designers (e.g., if you tell it to someone at a coffee shop, they should instantly understand what problem you're aiming to solve)

You can write your problem statement in many formats. If you want some guidance, this article proposes a three-part format:

Traditional problem statements have 3 components: 1) a user, 2) a need, and 3) a goal. These are then combined following the pattern: [A user] needs [need] in order to accomplish [goal].

The [user] should correspond to a specific persona or real end-user segment you've done research on.

The [need] should be real, should belong to users, should not be made up by the team, and should not be phrased as a solution.

The [goal] is the result of meeting that need. It should be rooted in empathy. Look beyond the obvious – what will this solution allow the user to accomplish? For example, think about the user's hopes, fears, and motivations.

Conversely, here are some properties of bad problem statements:

  • Doesn't define a user group
  • Defines a user group that's too broad or narrow
  • Doesn't provide a well-defined goal or core problem
  • Already jumps to a proposed solution
  • Feels unrealistic if you pitch it to potential employers

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can we see examples of user research write-ups?

A: Look at the relevant lecture slides. But be aware that not all examples contain all of the components that we're looking for in this assignment.

Q: Is there an exact format or template that we should follow in the write-up?

A: We provided suggestions in lecture, but as you can see from some example case studies, everyone uses a slightly different format. Just think about what tells a good story to potential employers, and keep APS in mind.

Q: How come some of the examples we saw in lecture didn't have all the requirements for this assignment?

A: Because they weren't from this class. You can use lecture examples as inspiration, but make sure to meet the requirements of this assignment.

Q: For user research, How many participants are enough? or How much data is enough? (for data science).

A: See lecture slides for details.