Erika Hall’s “Just Enough User Research”

Hall advocates the use of “design ethnography” — what is that, and how does one do it? What specific user research methods does she suggest?

Design ethnography involves studying humans in the context of their own culture to better orient designers’ works towards the lives of their target user group. By creating a mental model of how the users live their lives and see the world, designers are better able to meet the needs of their target users. Among other things, Hall suggests accomplishing this through several user research methods including replacing assumptions with actual insight into users’ needs and creating design targets, or personas, to represent the needs of the users in all contexts. She suggests delving deeply into the lives of a manageable set of representative users of the intended user group. This involves understanding the daily practices and habits of these individuals in their most natural environment.

What is a “user persona” and why are they useful? What sort of danger might a user persona create, and how could you mitigate that danger?

A user persona is a fictional user archetype created by researchers on the basis of data gathered about the user group. User personas are useful for allowing designers to advocate for the users’ needs and maintain an empathetic, user-centered design mindset. Personas serve as a reference point for the typical user the designers are focused on. A user persona might create the danger of carrying assumptions about representative users and the user group as a whole. In order to mitigate that danger, it is important to keep in mind that insight and direct observations are the best replacement for often baseless, or biased assumptions. Also, creating a user persona encourages user researchers to focus on a very specific individual, or mental model of a person, and in turn may be neglecting key characteristics of other potential users.

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