One of the ways beginners (and experts) are mostly likely to blow usability research is by asking bad questions.
In Nondirected Interviews: How to Get More Out of Your Research Questions, Mike explains how to ask good questions that will get you better data. It is very right on; I wish I hadn’t already turned in my research chapter– this article makes me want to add some stuff. Ah well, you all can buy Mike’s book if he ever finishes it. (nondisclosure. I’m partial to Mike as he taught me a lot about what I know about user testing when I was at Egreetings. My Creative Director was listening to him on webmonkey radio and said: “hey, let’s hire that guy.” Mike came in and he not only ran user testing, but he explained why he did what he did, and what it meant when users did what they did.)
Anyhow, interviewing is the basis of user research along with observation. Knowing these two skills will take you a long way. avoiding influence and coaxing real information from users is an art. Doing it wrong shouldn’t stop you from doing it– I remember one really bad usability test where I saw this marketing research chick do testing and she was horrendous– she grabbed the mouse out of the user’s hand at one point and said “let me just show you where it is. Okay, now how does that blue affect your perception of the company.”
use. get it?
Anyhow, we still saw a lot of useful things from users when the moderator wasn’t grabbing the mouse or emoting. Any time you watch users you learn something.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards getting better data. Asking better questions. Working on moderating your voice, speaking more neutrally, being invisible, watchful, attentive, probing.
Mike’s wearing a fireman’s coat, btw. Very Shiny.