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User Understanding

In most cases, I don't believe user understanding requires months and years of study for most projects. It can be as simple as desk research followed by some interviews. If you know nothing about your users (often not the case), some visits to observe their environment, working conditions, tools used, etc., is critical. Even then, a lot of data can often be captured quickly.

In other cases, there are legitimate reasons to use a multi-method approach to user understanding. We can never know too much about the people who use our products (as well as those who choose not to use them!). What is critical in all cases, is that we try to be as objective and aware of our own biases as we observe and interact with them. The wrong data is worse than no data at all.

User Research

User Research and Design Thinking of Demand Planners

The usability and productivity of operational demand planners is a concern. The ability to provide product to customers requires planners to be aware of market demand and to use internal tools to work within their organization to deliver product in a timely fashion.

Our team recently conducted a design thinking session of planners. Following the creation of personas based on in-person interviews, we ran a series of exercises to further delve into each persona. Additional pain points, and further elaboration of their roles and tasks was done. Finally, we developed a concept prototype based on the needs and tasks. A day later, I conducted one-on-one testing with five planners to determine in which ways the concept would provide support and where further thought would be necessary.

Since that test, the development team has already discovered ways with the current set of tools to enable some of the future concept. While the current tool will never fully satisfy some of the needs, already we are making changes based on the Design Thinking session to significantly improve the user workflow.

I have interviewed multiple planners to understand needs, tasks and barriers to success to guide feature development. I have helped to plan and lead Design Thinking sessions with (so far) two groups of planners, leading to the design of features improving their productivity and the usability of their tools and processes.

Additionally, I have redesigned UI components for planners to simplify their UI and enable new features needed for them to run multiple scenarios and compare the results simply.

Ethnographic Study

Ethnographic Study of Home Health Care Nurses

The health science division had long supported nurses working in hospitals, urgent care settings and other formal settings but never those involved in home health care. As the market for home health care had grown significantly, we decided to better understand the needs of home health care nurses to determine if we could develop a product to support them, given the likely overlap with some of our content. For this project, I did the following:

While our organization was well-versed in nursing needs in general, there was still uncertainty about needs that could be specific to this audience. My goal was to observe the resources and technology used by the nurse, the interactions with patients and caregivers, needs that we might be able to address among caregivers and patients and anything we hadn't considered.

  • I developed, and had approved, a plan to conduct the user understanding effort

  • I worked with a home care agency to coordinate 'ride along' with several nurses as they visited patients.

  • Developed a set of interview questions for informal interviews when I had the opportunity to talk with them between visits.

  • Developed scripts and conducted interviews with nursing educators

  • Wrote a report for the team about user needs discovered during the study and developed personas for home health care nurses, nurse educators.

Among my findings were that much of our content from our hospital-based nursing product would be valuable in the home-care setting. However, additional needs had to be addressed including:

  • Working in a non-sterile environment

  • Content to be shared with caregivers and patients had to be at a lower level (6th grade)

  • Local language support of any content left with the patients (e.g., instructions) was critical

The project was approved on a seed-funding basis (would later come to fruition). One of my direct reports generated a concept prototype which we then tested over a series of iterations using WebEx to fine-tune with regards to their needs. The project continued to get support from upper management and finally, a mobile product was created to serve the home health care nursing community.

Concept Formation

Concept Formation and Evaluation

An effort to better understand experience users have as they search and find articles was initiated by product. I developed surveys to gather data from users with regards to searching and working with search results. Were there areas that are difficult, or which are pain points? We conducted a survey, inviting users who were using the product at the time, to participate.

Once I captured data in the survey (both free-form comments and data surrounding user role, etc.) I used Maxqda to categorize the comments in terms of tasks and areas of the site.

Working with my product counterpart, we created a list of top pain points and began creating concepts to address those that seemed to address the most critical needs.


After grouping issues and evaluating their severity, we began to design concepts that would be used to gather data from a different set of users to evaluate their potential usefulness. Areas of the images below are covered to remove key concepts that have not been implemented or tested.


This concept evaluation phase was postponed. We planned that once rating data was gathered for the concepts, if there are concepts that are highly rated, we would take those concepts and conduct one-on-one testing with users to capture more detailed comments, what may be missing, etc. At this point, the project was delayed.

In Office Observations

In-Office Observations and Interviews with University Professors

Though we had spent a few releases developing features aimed at the professor and grad student market, we had not had the opportunity to fully understand the relevant personas. A colleague and I conducted a set of in-person interviews with our academic users (from grad students to full professors to understand their needs and pain points.

We combined this with concept testing we had planned to do in person, conducting semi-structured interviews followed up by their reviews on online concepts with the product we support.

  • My colleague and I developed semi-structured interview scripts designed to allow us room to explore topics that emerged from the various users.

  • We observed their work settings (usually offices, but sometimes labs, home offices, etc.), and took pictures

  • We developed concept mockups to evaluate with the users

The visits also led to the development of a report of areas of satisfaction with our current product, ways in which our competitor was superior to our product and bulleted items for future needs.

Another deliverable was new personas (e.g., tenured researchers, new associate professors, etc.) used to guide later understanding.

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