Learning How to Focus on Field Studies

Jared Spool

September 1st, 2006

Here’s a fun little exercise you can use when training observers before they go out on field visits. I learned this from Tara Scanlon, who used to work for UIE and I miss tremendously.

To prepare:

Collect up 1 blank index card for each observer. On each card, write down one of these four sentences, such that you have an almost distribution across the number of cards (so, if you have 12 people being trained, you’ll have 3 cards with each sentence):

  • Group 1: Things that are blue
  • Group 2: Things that are round
  • Group 3: Things that roll
  • Group 4: Things that make noise

You’ll need a flip-chart or whiteboard and appropriate markers during the training session.

To use:

  1. During the training, pass out one card to each person. Ask them to look at it, but not share what it says with anyone else.
  2. Tell them that, for the next 2 minutes, they are to look around the room and write down everything that matches the description on the card. They aren’t to share their lists with anyone else.
  3. Give them the 2 minutes to write down their lists.
  4. Divide a flip-chart page (or the whiteboard surface) into four boxes. In each box, write the numbers 1 thru 4.
  5. After their two minutes, tell the group that you’re going to play a game. The people in Group 1 are going to list items they observed without divulging the category of the objects. Everyone else has to guess what the category was by the objects they observed.
  6. Starting with group 1, encourage them to shout out their objects as you write them down on the flip chart. Once you’ve gotten a 4 or 5, ask the others what they think the category is. Repeat with groups 2-4.
  7. For the wrap up to the exercise, ask the entire group if there were things on their list they hadn’t paid attention to until they were looking around the room. Then ask them if there were things on other’s list they didn’t notice, until they were collected on the flip-chart.

The point is to show them how, when you have the right focus questions, observing specifics is much easier. When you don’t have any focus questions, you’re likely not to see something you need to see.

Next weekSoon, I’ll post a templateframework we use to develop our focus questions. Here is the framework.

Happy Labor Day! (For non-USers, Labor Day is a US holiday to celebrate the “working man” and, oddly, a day when we don’t work.)

5 Responses to “Learning How to Focus on Field Studies”

  1. Ross Says:

    What do you mean by “Things that are roll.” in Group 3?

    Rolled up? Rolling? Rollable?


  2. Jared Spool Says:

    Oops. I meant, “Things that roll” fixed. Sorry.

  3. Lis Says:

    “Next week, I’ll post a template we use to develop our focus questions.”

    Possibly-stupid question, but what’s the link to that template; I’m not seeing a clearly relevant entry in the following week’s archives.

  4. Jared Spool Says:

    Hi Lis,

    Thanks for catching this. The framework is available in this post.

  5. Group Activities to Demonstrate Usability and Design Issues » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    […] use this to train teams on how to observe during field studies. (I wrote about it back in 2006.) You give each person a different criteria to observe in the room (such as “all the round […]

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