3. Natural observation
Observing people in their natural setting with no interference from the investigator to see how users actually behave within a given context.
Used during the exploratory phase or to gather key insights into general behaviour.
- It is important to remain unnoticed. The investigator must take care not to be intrusive and make people uncomfortable
- Choose locations to observe, rather than specific people to follow. It is a criminal offence in some countries to follow people without their permission
- Observe group behaviour rather than focusing on any individual. Use in public spaces rather than private areas. Do not stalk, stare, use a telephoto lens or do anything else which might be illegal or disrespectful
- Gives honest and insightful information. The user is acting in a natural context and is not influenced in any way
- Can uncover behaviour of which you were not previously aware
- Can reveal surprising or unexpected events
- Can capture ordinary interactions between people, products, services and environments
- Good for seeing surrounding contextual information
- Will create visual data to act as inspiration
- Requires little preparation time and can be started at short notice
- Cannot guarantee a specific event will occur
- Time-consuming to conduct. You might have to sit for several hours in a particular place
- Time-consuming to analyse and reveal insights. You may have to review images or video later to notice additional insights
- Users are not interviewed, so the investigator could misinterpret what they see
- Cannot capture user personality or history beyond the observed duration
- Confined to public spaces which will allow you to take photographs or video
- Difficult to observe vulnerable groups such as children
- Choose a location that relates to your research topic and observe how people act within that space.
- Be prepared to stay in one location for several hours. Between 1-2 hours is enough to provide some meaningful information or indicate whether the location is suitable.
- Pay attention to the context, even information that may not seem important at the time. Try to record points of interest, time intervals, sketch layouts, floor plans, movements and dynamics.
- Take a still camera or video camera where allowed. You can capture complex situations in great detail and examine them later.
- Have your camera on and ready as important events may happen at a moment’s notice.
- If the observation is task-based, then participate. You will experience the context at first hand and blend in with other people.
BEST SUITED TO
- Forming an opinion quickly on a large topic such as looking at the problems people have whilst travelling through the city
- Gathering insight on general behaviour, actions, interactions, procedure and context rather than gaining specific information from individuals