Before a product is conceptualized, it is critical to understand its intended customers: what type of environment do they work in, how do they conduct tasks and what tools do they use to accomplish their goals? And once a product is released, it is important to see how customers interact with it, and validate its model(s) and requirements.
In order to observe people’s natural behaviors, it is necessary to conduct research in their “natural habitat,” rather than in a lab. This type of research is called field study. A field study includes a variety of methods, such as a diary study and on-location interviews.
Customers’ workspaces or homes can reveal a great deal about the context the product will operate within, as well as how they actually use the product. With a field study, you gain a holistic view about how your customers behave in the “real world,” instead of watching them perform a specified set of activities in a controlled setup, or tell you what they think they would do.
Usability Sciences conducts field studies in a variety of locations, including users’ homes or offices, or in a store.
Conceptualizing and designing a product within a vacuum, without any consideration of the target audience’s needs, is a risky business approach. The project team makes assumptions about people’s behavior and attitudes, and if these are not tested early on, changes later on in the process can be costly.
However, by examining real customers working in their usual surroundings, you can design your product based on concrete observations instead of guesses, as well as confirm whether your product meets customers’ needs.
The field study method is especially ideal for researching “real-world” mobile device usage, since a realistic environment is difficult to replicate in a lab. One example is a geo-based mobile app, which is typically used in contexts with numerous distractions and dynamic physical environments and conditions.
Field studies will also help you answer the following questions: