Observing your users is a great way to understand how they experience the challenge you are exploring. It is not uncommon for users during the interview to describe what they do in one way while in reality they act in another way.

By using this method, you will study your users in the natural environment of the challenge, and document how they respond to, avoid or perhaps circumvent the challenge. Observing is also a good way to gather information about the factors that affect the challenge.

It is a good idea to use observations when your users do not know what they actually need or want. Watching closely how they respond to the challenge or how they use a service will give you insights into their needs.

Follow the steps below to get started. Feel free to work in pairs.

1. Find your users

You know who your target audience is and you know where and when your challenge takes place (maybe you have written it down in your challenge canvas, boxes 3 and 4). Just set aside time to go out and observe your users in real life.

2. Prepare if necessary

If the challenge you are exploring takes place outdoors in a public place, you will not have to prepare as much as collecting your notebooks and syncing with your team.

If the challenge takes place indoors, you can ask responsible people for permission to use their premises. Explain what you are doing, what information you are looking for and how to use it.

Be clear that they do not need to prepare anything and that the purpose of the observation is not to evaluate specific employees or services but rather to better understand the challenge. Explain why it is important to solve the challenge so you have a greater chance of getting permission.

3. Keep your eyes open

What do you want to take a closer look at and understand? It may be helpful to write down some questions that may help you structure your observations.

Example: You are investigating how we could increase security for girls at Knutpunkten. Related questions could be: How do girls move around the room? Do they gather in certain places? What other people do girls interact with? Do girls act differently on the weekend or in the evening?

During the observation, look for:

  • Things or events that affect the user's behavior or mood
  • "Shortcuts" within the system that the user uses to reach their goal
  • If anything is surprising
  • If something seems irrational

Be ready to document during the observation!

The most common is to simply take notes with paper and pen. You can also take some additional photos of the situation to better remember certain details or to build up your documentation of the challenge. If people are included in the photo, ask them if it's ok.

4. Reflect after the observation

It is good to take a moment after each observation to reflect. You and your colleague then have time to review your notes, discuss answers that were particularly interesting or surprising, and reflect on how the observation went.

Are there any questions or practical things you would do differently during the next observation session?

5. The observations are clear

Good work! Now it's time to go through all the data you have collected the observations, and possibly from other methods, to find patterns.

If you follow the guide, go back for the next step.

4. Examine the need