The Power of Field Studies

Published: 23 October 2008

Understanding how users truly interact with software products is difficult unless you visit users in the field like their home or workplace.

There is no substitute for field studies to collect rich data to see how users use products and the issues they face to help drive the workflow of a new product design.

When discovering what functions should be included as part of new product design and what needs to be improved, the Product Team usually examines the following areas:

  1. Business – what does the business want the new product to do?
  2. Product – what is the existing product workflow and how does it work?
  3. Technology – what internal systems are being used to provide data to the current solution?
  4. Vendor – what potential systems and components are being offered by vendor to include in the new product solution to improve it?
  5. Domain – what internal product domain expertise is available to better understand the products and the users?
  6. Sales & Marketing – what order and priority of "products and services" do sales and marketing want to see presented in the new product?

Guesswork
These requirements are useful and necessary inputs to the new product solution but can be greatly distanced from the user’s "real requirements" and the issues they face in the field using
the product on a day to day basis.

Focus Groups
Using research methods like focus groups to answer these questions are limited because participants usually rely on recall to describe how they use products. This can mislead the design
direction and may be inherently error prone. When you see consistent user behavior emerge
from a Field Study, there is no longer a requirement to validate user statements as the need or
behavior is established.

User Strategy
This lack of user knowledge and gaps is often completed by "guesswork" on behalf of the
Design Team. This "guesswork" can be reduced by visiting and observing users in the field to
help better understand:

Benefits
The major benefits of Field Studies that input directly into the new product design process include:

Informed Design
Field studies provide rich data to help the new product design workflow and provide valuable insights into the total user/customer experience as opposed to focusing on the software tool
only on best guesses.