How I learned Shadowing in User Research

Published Dec 10, 2017
How I learned Shadowing in User Research

About me

I am Jubril Juma, a product developer and a user design-centric preacher. I stumbled into design and product development from a sales background on my first post-university job, and got lucky that the product was saveable and later acquired by a larger competitor. Been designing winning experiences and products ever since, and I have worked/led a number of software teams. Love sharing my experience any chance I get!

Why I wanted to learn Shadowing in User Research

I learnt to shadow because we needed to understand the world of the user we were building a payroll service for.

How I approached learning Shadowing in User Research

Initially, we had done customer surveys, prototyping, interviews and focus groups before we started building the product. However, we could tell that we were not getting the right information from the response of the users to the new modifications. So we decided to shadow them by spending time with them as they worked, to see why, how and what they did during their day (especially in regards to salary payments).
And boy was it insightful! We learnt that accounts relied heavily on preset formulas on excel sheets to handle calculations, and they were very wary of trying out new things even if those things had been around for a while and could make their jobs better. We also learnt that they felt comfortable using tools they had learnt and practised with and that they were definitely not early adopters looking for new ways to do things.

Challenges I faced

Initially, it felt odd just sitting about observing people work. It also took a bit of explaining and convincing to try out for both the team (mostly the software developers and accountants) but after helping them see the benefits to each in his own field, we were able to win them over.

Key takeaways

The most important takeaway was that we finally understood the customer by watching for non-verbal cues in their natural daily activities. We were able to use this knowledge to better design our product and increase user happiness and adoption.

Tips and advice

It is expensive to start building without starting out with design, because time and resources are invested in solutions that would not be adopted by the user. And it is also important to know which tools to use at the right time to answer/solve the right problems. Shadowing helped us understand a lot of the non-verbal cues in a more natural environment for the user, allowing us to empathise with them and see issues we had overlooked when designing features and the flow for the software development team.
Finally, here is a really helpful article about Shadowing (there are more articles on the site that you could find super useful if you decide to explore)-->

Final thoughts and next steps

This was done about 3 years ago, however, I keep learning each day, how best to do user research and testing. I also intend on committing a great part of 2018 to building a community of user researchers and testers in Nigeria/Africa to help many teams solve actual user needs and problems while reducing their development costs.

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