Today Kate Saunderson, a user researcher with the Scottish Government and former social digital lecturer, returned to DJCAD to talk about the importance and benefits of user centred research in designing new technology-based public services. The lecture began with a surprise timed challenge: to work in pairs to devise a series of questions to determine the user experience of applying for university and the problems the process presented. As the other project I seriously considered undertaking for fourth year was centered on supporting mature students through applying for and settling into university, I immediately suggested to my partner, a stranger from another discipline, that we should ask participants how old they were when they applied for university, and discovered that he too was a mature student at the time of application. His current degree is his second, so he was able to describe a difference in the experience of applying at eighteen and twenty-eight.
We were the first pair to volunteer our questions, and Kate commented that it is good to consider what in might be termed non-traditional users (in this context, the UCAS system is primarily used by school leavers). However, one of the reasons I had decided not to design for mature students was because I was part of the intended user base and did not want my own experiences to bias my research and subsequent design work. The second part of the exercise then involved each pair interviewing each other, and I quickly discovered that he had encountered some of the same issues I had in applying when he applied as a mature student, as well as some that were unique to his situation of applying for an undergraduate degree several years after graduating with an undergraduate degree.
I learned three things from this session. One: I can conduct research with a user group of which I am part without either focussing on experiences which match my own at the expense of those which do not, or disregarding my own potentially shared experiences in favour of focussing on those which are unknown to me; however I would need to be aware of my potential biases in the first place to have a chance at guarding against them, and I would need to trust colleagues to challenge me even more on such a project than on any other. Two: one of the other reasons I chose not to work on the project for mature students is because I would want not just to prototype it but actually build and launch it. While I am enjoying working on visually impaired gaming – and in fact have plans to continue working on it beyond the degree show – I also need to return the research I began in the summer between second and third year regarding how mature students could be better assisted in their applications and studies, and design a solution. Three: Kate has an amazing job, speaking to people about their experiences, analysing their stories, then working together with colleagues first to generate concepts and then to create services which will be of benefit to specific groups within the community, improving society a little more each time.
I want to do that too.