UX in the physical world: 6 tips for conducting research beyond the screen

Over the past few months, I’ve been conducting research for Bristol City Council (BCC), but rather than a solely digital endeavour, this research has been carried out in physical spaces. It took place in the various BCC customer service points throughout Bristol. The aim was to discover users’ needs, how they use the service points, and their opinions on how the council could improve other areas such as online, phones and letters (to reduce the need for them to visit the service points). Our findings will inform the design of a new service point that will open towards the end of the year. During the process, I learnt 6 key things: 1. Visit on different days and at different times. This way you’ll get a more comprehensive picture. For our first visit, we arrived at the service point before it opened on a Monday morning,  and the queue outside told a story of its own. However, when we paid our second visit on a Wednesday afternoon, the service point was quiet and fairly orderly. 2. Play dumb. People will open up to you more if you give the impression that you’re not a ‘specialist’ or particularly knowledgeable about the area you’re researching. We referred to ourselves simply as ‘researchers’ and didn’t mention UX, and, as a result, the people we spoke to didn’t ask many questions about what we were doing. This allowed us to focus on them and hear their stories, which after all, was what we were there to do. 3. Bring a clipboard to write on. It may sound obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. When talking...