Think like a Detective

If you want to be a better UX Researcher, you have to start thinking like a detective – Investigate like Sherlock Holmes

Five steps method of doing so:

  1. Understand the problem to be solved
  2. Collect the facts
  3. Develop hypotheses to explain the facts
  4. Eliminate the least likely hypotheses to arrive at the solution
  5. Act on the solution

Understand the Problem to be Solved

Questions are more intriguing. Answers tend to bring everything to a halt.

When we fixate on the solutions too early, we risk losing sight of the actual problem we were trying to solve.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – Sherlock Holmes

You need to be clear about the problem you are trying to solve and create an explicit research question before you start doing any research.

Don’t assume that your problem is unique and no one has asked the same questions before. Interview the company and team about what they already know, read the background and prior research reports, synthesis it in way that makes sense.

Leave nothing to guesswork.

Collect the Facts

Opinions ≠ Facts Speculation ≠ Evidence

Holmes primary method of collecting facts was careful observation

Observation is a key tool for UX Researchers. During field visits, it can help you see the unmet user needs – often which the users can’t even articulate properly or know is even there.

“We approached the case, you remember, with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. We had formed no theories. We were sim- ply there to observe.” – Holmes

It’s best to observe with no judgment, expectations, or prior assumptions or theories. Don’t try to interpret things or try to fit things together at this stage. Start with a blank slate and don’t worry about what you are noticing & capturing.

Tips on observation research from Holmes

  1. Watch people in their real environment, actually doing the work; don’t just get a demonstration.
  2. Remember that your participants are the real experts, you are the “novice.”
  3. Focus on the most typical tasks, busiest days, typical days, and critical incidents.
  4. Find out the activities that precede and follow the task you are observing.
  5. Look for inconveniences, delays, and frustrations.
  6. Shadow people, follow them wherever they go.
  7. Point to things and find out what they are for.
  8. Get copies or photos of artifacts, samples, forms, and documents.
  9. Make diagrams of the workspace.
  10. List the tools people are using.
  11. Note people’s dynamics and interactions.
  12. Be alert to things happening simultaneously.
  13. Record anything unusual about the scene you are looking at.
  14. Ask yourself if anything is missing
  15. Observe behavior at a low level of detail — watch what people touch and what they look at.
  16. Pay attention to the sequences and timing of events and actions.
  17. Don’t get in the way.
  18. Pay attention to trifles.

Develop Hypothese to Explain the Facts

Sherlock Holmes was a specialist. He had a deep knowledge of very narrow fields. His understanding of Chemistry, footprints, bloodstains, and various poisonous flowers ( but not general gardening) was unparalleled. But, he didn’t bother knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

“What the deuce is it to me? You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

We, as UX researchers & designers, need to have deep knowledge of human behavior, technology advances, market trends, and our company’s business goals, so that we can develop strong hypotheses that best fit the facts we collect from our UX research.

Our hypotheses help us identify the gaps in the way people work— a gap being the opportunity emerged when we compare the way something is currently being done, and the improved way it might be possible to do it in the future.

To help the team see these gaps, we need clarity on our users, their tasks, and their environment of use (Who? Doing what? Under what circumstances?)

Our models, personas, scenarios, and stories should include:

  1. The primary goals that people have.
  2. The workflow of tasks people carry out.
  3. The mental models people build.
  4. The tools people use.
  5. The environments people work in.
  6. The terminology people use to describe what they do.

When our analysis is completed, we should have clear answers to these. This will allow us to see the gaps and the opportunities for improvement, and then, finally, we can start working on solutions.

Eliminate the Least Likely Hypotheses to Arrive at the Solution

It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet (1892).

At this stage, if we have done our work right, we will have a number of potential design solutions, product ideas, and improvements.

Now we start eliminating the weaker solutions by asking:

Does our hypothesized solution fit the results of our investigation?

Eliminating potential solutions is a high stakes game, as the evidence for or against a solution must be compelling — it needs to be reliable, valid, and unbiased.

Experiments are our friends. It helps us test the strength of our hypotheses, ideas, and solutions. As you move into the development cycle, controlled testing should continue as an iterative process.

Act on the Solution

You have understood the problem, collected the facts, came up with potential hypotheses & solutions, eliminated the least likely hypotheses, now how do you ensure that your recommendations are carried out by the development team?

Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Conduct a one-day UX research and design workshop to “explain what we found and how we did it” and to transition the user experience findings and solutions to the development team.
  2. Provide the development team with specific and actionable design recommendations.
  3. Agree on accountability for implementing your user experience recommendations.
  4. Promote iterative design by arranging to test multiple versions of the prototype.
  5. Create and present a clear series of next user experience steps—both tactical and strategic.
  6. Educate the team in UX research methods.
  7. Don’t just attend design meetings: chair them.

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