Observing people

Learn about people by observing them

Monday, 3 October, 2016

Everyone is unique; everyone behaves differently. What is more fun than sitting somewhere - on a park bench, at a cafe, or on a terrace, and watching people go by? Postures, movements, nonverbal and verbal behavior - all can be observed.

Watching people, seeing their behaviors, looking at their performance, is interesting for many reasons. It’s fun, but it is also very revealing. Knowing what motivates people, why they do what they do, and how they respond to influences around them can only lead to improvements in terms of quality of life.

But if you want to control as much of the environment as possible, to prevent your observation from being interrupted by a rainstorm, or a barking dog, the best place to perform your observations is in a laboratory where you have full control.

Observational research

One type of a controlled setting that is often used by researchers is an observation lab. Observation is an obvious method of carrying out research in psychology. In the case of controlled observations, the researcher decides where the observation will take place, at what time, with which participants, under what circumstances, and uses a standardized procedure with all participants.

Rather than writing a detailed description of all behavior observed, it is often easier to code behavior according to a previously agreed scale using a coding scheme (i.e. conducting a structured observation). Often, videos are collected in the observation lab, which allows easier behavior coding, and also provides a backup to the researcher, who can go back to these videos as needed after collection.

Approaching real life situations

The Opportunities to Understand Childhood Hurt (O.U.C.H.) Laboratory run by Dr. Rebecca Pillai Riddell focuses on understanding how caregivers and children interact within the context of pain. Their research is performed in a variety of settings, from their own lab space at the York University Campus to the Neonatal Intensive Care Units of major Toronto hospitals.

For researchers in the O.U.C.H. laboratory, observations are made as similar to real life situations as possible, but with the advantage of easier and more efficient data collection. The data obtained is highly quantitative (i.e. numerical) in nature, so analysis can be done quickly. Additionally, many observations can take place within a short amount of time, making using the lab a less time consuming method for both researcher and child.

With controlled observations, results can be easily replicated by other researchers using the same observation schedule. This provides reliability of results, which is a hallmark of psychology research.

Evaluate a product by testing it on users

A whole other type of observation can be carried out in a laboratory: usability testing. This methodology is a must when you aim to assess use of your app, website or product. By means of these usability tests you are able to assess the degree of successfulness in usability – are people using your product in the way you’ve intended?

When necessary, the data from these tests can be used to make improvements in usability. If the product does not add value to the way in which the user normally performs tasks, then the user has no need to use the product at all. With usability testing, the focus is always user-centric.  

Typically, during a usability test, participants will be asked to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen, and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems, collect qualitative and quantitative data, and determine the participant's satisfaction with the product.

Make your test as realistic as possible

One way in which usability testing can be done is in a Usability eXperience (UX) lab. Users perform different tasks in a simulated environment; as with observation labs, an advantage of testing in a lab is that the researcher can control the environment. Distractions (sound, nearby objects, screens, etc) can be minimized, and accessories can be added as desired, in any location: cameras, eye trackers, a one-way mirror, and even physiological monitoring devices.

The test space is always available when you have your own lab, and it can be furnished for various study scenarios: an office, living room, or group discussion settings, for example.

A high tech laboratory

The Information Experience and Design (IXD) Research Group at Stuttgart Media University, in Germany, has furnished such a state-of-the-art laboratory. They aim to make experiences with interactive representations of information more enjoyable and motivating. To do so, they study the needs and behavior of users, develop evaluation methodology, and improve the user-centered design of interactive systems.

Setting up a well-equipped lab

Interested in setting up an observation or usability lab for answering your research questions? Please visit our website to read more about the many different possibilities Noldus provides. There you will find descriptions of a large number of research, training, and simulation labs from all over the world, all recently built and in active use. With a photographic tour, you can see how we helped design spaces for our clients, what equipment they chose, and which software tools are used for data collection and analysis. 

Alternatively, download our free White Paper on how to build your Observation or Usability lab.

References

https://www.frankwatching.com/archive/2012/08/27/usability-testing-goede-voorbereiding-is-het-halve-werk/ (in dutch)

http://www.simplypsychology.org/observation.html