Over my 30 year career, I’ve been a UX methods nerd. I’ve collected hundreds of books about methods for generating ideas, defining requirements, creating designs, and evaluating designs. I’ve spent a number of years writing about both well known (think-aloud usability testing and brainstorming) and lesser known (misuse scenarios and brainwriting) methods.
Over the next 6 months or so, I will post 100 UX methods that I hope will provide the information you need to use these methods in your UX practice. Generally, each post will provide the following information:
- When to use the method
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Tips and tricks
- Additional references (books and Web sources)
I will cover a single method in each blog installment and over the course of the year will post multiple articles on themes like “Extreme UX Methods” or “Card-Based Methods” or “Techniques from Social Psychology”. So to get this series started, I’m going to start with a simple method borrowed from social psychology – Concept Interviews.
Method 1 of 100: Concept Interviews
The concept interview is based on early work by social psychologist, Robert Zajonc (1960) on cognitive structures in human communication. The method below was an extension of Zajonc's work by Ehn, Meggerle, Steen, and Svedemar (1997).
When to Use:
This method is probably most useful when you have a working prototype or product. This could, for example, be used to gather user experience feedback during beta testing. You could set this up to work online.
- Create 20 empty slips of paper. You can use Post-it Notes or 3x5 cards.
- Mark each card with a letter from A to T (the use of alphabetic characters is probably better than numbers here so participants don't consider the numbers to be ratings of some sort, or a prioritization scheme).
- Ask the person to write short statements that describe his/her own user experience with a system, one per slip. Participants can write down positive or negative statements. Some simple examples of statements might be:
- "Easy to install"
- "Looks cluttered"
- "Seems like simple operations take too many steps"
- "I have to remember different rules for searching in different places of the Web site"
- "The multiple layer concept was really hard to figure out - it took me weeks"
- Before the person writes his/her statements on the slips, explain that this is not a test of competence with the system; it is a method that allows users to describe their experience without being influenced by the researchers.
- Tell the person that they don't have to fill out all the slips. There are no requirements for how many statements the person has to write. You will often get 10 to 15 statements.
- Leave the person alone for 15 to 30 minutes to write items.
- When you return, ask the person to rank the items on importance by ordering the slips from low to high. You could also ask the person to put the slips into 3 piles of low, medium, or high importance. When I’ve tried this with users, they can generally order 10-15 items in the time allotted.
- Conduct a debriefing that focuses on the rankings of the items. Ask the person to discuss why a slip falls where it does in the ranking.
- Collect data from 10-30 users and look for patterns and themes that emerge.
+ Concept mapping is simple to conduct,
+ Does not require a lot of training
+ Can be done in group settings.
+ Provides a user-based ranking of the importance of the statements in the context of a particular activity.
+ Provides a range of user experience statements and can use the data for requirements, scenarios, and task analysis.
- Can be laborious to analyze for patterns.
Ehn, P., Meggerle, T., Steen, O., & Svedemar, M. (1997). What kind of car is this sales support system? On styles, artifacts, and quality-in-use. In M. Kyng and L. Mathiassen (Eds.), Computers and design in context (pp. 112-143). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Zajonc, Robert B. (1960). The process of cognitive tuning in communication. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 61, 159-167.
What’s Next in the Series?
The next UX methods posting will describe “Brainwriting”, an ideation method that can complement group brainstorming and be useful in cultures where individuals find it hard to express “wild and crazy” ideas.