Observing behaviour in the wild – how do customers really act?

Usability testing within a lab environment (such as the Bunnyfoot testing labs) is an incredibly valuable way to see if your website or product is providing your customers with the best experience possible. But what would you give to see how customers interact with what you have to offer when in their own environment? Sometimes it’s important to get out there and do some good old fashioned field research.

At Bunnyfoot, we use these ethnographic studies as part of our user-centred design techniques. We’ve watched tellers interact with banking systems, chemists consulting pharmaceutical standards, and listened to customer queries at a travel giant’s call centre. We’ve gained incredible insight from observing people doing real tasks in real situations.

So what’s involved in ethnography and what can it tell you about how your customers interact with your site or product?

What can you gain from observing in the wild?

Taking people out of their environment and bringing them into a lab for usability testing is valuable in the right circumstances, but sometimes your customers won’t tell you the truth, as they don’t want to look uninformed by not doing things the right way or questioned why they made certain decisions.

In the ‘wild’, an impartial observer can collect more detailed insights into what your customers are really doing and thinking.

You can observe how your product:

  • is actually used in real life and in real time and whether it’s being used as you expected
  • is used by different groups of people
  • is working in relation to other products within your customer’s environment

How ethnography works

Like lab-based user testing, an observer still asks your customers targeted questions to help get to the bottom of any issues. But in their own space, whether that’s their office or home, customers are using the product as they would in real life. This means we can get a more accurate view of what they think of your product and how they would interact with it on an everyday basis.

Observers also gain a shared experience of the product with your customers – helping testers to feel less anxious about describing any difficulties they encounter.

The results – what you can get out of ethnography

The insight gathered from these types of observations show us in detail how your different customers interact with your product, whether it’s doing what it should, if it’s easy to use, and if the overall experience is a positive one. This information feeds into:

Personas – we create personas to represent your customers. They help you to better understand the differences and similarities between types of customers and how to group them appropriately (Bunnyfoot’s Adam Dimmick wrote a great blog post on personas which is worth a read).

Scenarios – you can get a more thorough and realistic idea of how each persona would use the product after seeing first-hand how it’s used in a real environment.

Requirements gathering and product strategy -understanding what customers really need from the product is invaluable for identifying and prioritising specifications for a new or redesigned product.

 If you’re interested in finding out more about ethnography, and how we use it to form user-centred designs, or are thinking of using ethnographic research for user testing, why not drop us a line to find out more: more@bunnyfoot.co.uk

Further reading:

Your guide to personas and how to use them

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
More about us