A1: Needfinding - due Thursday, 10/6, 11:59pm

"Needfinding is probably the most important part of any UX Designer's arsenal. Without it, your design team could spend months designing a solution that completely misses the point. You will be surprised at how much you can learn, especially when you vary the audience.

Take the smartphone. In all likelihood, you will have seen an elderly person press the screen harder and more slowly when it does not respond as they had expected. Needfinding research has suggested that this relates to 50s, 60s and 70s technology - the technology this age group are familiar with...this technology often does yield a different result if you press harder.

Why is this useful? Well perhaps we could develop interfaces that took into account the pressure the user applies, and not just where they apply it? How could we make the interface itself easier for the elderly user? Needfinding is a very powerful way to generate ideas."

-- Mike Davison, UX Project Manager


[A friendly reminder to get started early on all assignments! It takes 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 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 1: Read the Design Briefs

Read the design brief for your studio. While you are reading through the briefs, think about anything in your daily life or in the life of your community that you can apply to that brief. Your brief will serve as a theme and yardstick for your work throughout the project sequence.

Step 2: Pick an Activity & Make a Plan

Ultimately you will design a web application, but you don't need to restrict your observation to people using computers and the web. Observe people doing tasks as they do it now, which may or may not involve 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.

Step 3: Observe & Interview 3 People

Select three people to observe. 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 chosen activity. 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 sketches to document activities, but do not use a video camera. 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 they will be able to understand what is going on without having observed alongside you. Note: Using stock photos/art is plagiarism and is unacceptable.

After each observation, ask the participant questions about what you observed. It should take you approximately two 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 anyone 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 most insightful ones. Each idea should be able to become the basis for a design 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 studio brief. 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 Google Doc for a point-of-view (from TA Rob) about writing a Point of View.

Step 6: Prepare a Needfinding Talk

Prepare a 30-second 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 over 20 students in your studio, so we need to keep these talks at 30 seconds so that we don't run over time.

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 student examples may use a different grading rubric.)

Assignment Submission

Submit a single well-formatted PDF file 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):

  • An explanation of how the activity you observed relates to the design brief for your studio.
  • 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.

Also DUE in studio: You are responsible for giving a prepared 30-second summary of your findings. (You do not need to turn in anything for the 30-second 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 studio brief.
  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
  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. Student gave a needfinding talk in studio.
  12. Student’s needfinding talk was well-prepared, explaining their observations and the successes/breakdowns found.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this assignment have to be directly related to my studio topic?

Yes, your assignments for the rest of the quarter have to relate to your studio theme. Two reasons for this: designing for a brief is how the real world works, and you will benefit much more in your studio when multiple teams work on related projects.

Is this an individual assignment?

Yes. Each person will need to submit their own assignment, on an activity related to their studio theme.

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

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

How do I find people to interview?

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, but we suggest that you reach out to your friend group or other students in your studio to participate in your interviews.

How many activities do I observe?

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.

How complicated does the activity have to be to require an interview of 10-15 minutes?

See the student examples to give you an idea of the appropriate scope of the activity.

I just got into the course off the waitlist but have not been assigned to a studio yet. What studio brief should I choose to do for A1?

Get started on A1 right away, since you will likely not be assigned to a studio until later. For now, pick your first-choice studio and do A1 for that studio brief. Regardless of which studio you end up getting into, your A1 will be graded for the studio you picked. Don't stress if you end up in a different studio, since A1 has very little bearing on future assignments; we just want you to get practice doing Needfinding. If you don't get a studio assignment by Friday, just go to your first-choice studio until you get your real studio assignment.

I ended up switching studio sections. Will my A1 still be graded?

Yes, your A1 will be graded for the studio brief that you used for A1, even if you end up switching studios later and working on a team project in another studio.