Elizabeth Goodman Revises Classic Handbook of User Experience Research

Elizabeth Goodman, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information, first became interested in user experience research while taking a graduate course at NYU.

“It was a revelation. I had come from a graphic design background, but I don’t like to just make stuff up; I don’t do very well designing in a white room,” says Goodman. “It was a revelation that I didn’t have to. I could gain inspiration just from talking to people and watching how people live. I kind of got addicted to it.”

Now Goodman is the author of the new edition of the classic handbook of user experience research “Observing the User Experience.” The new edition, published by Morgan Kaufmann Publishers and co-authored with Mike Kuniavsky and I School alumna Andrea Moed (MIMS ’07), is being released today.

The book presents in-depth coverage of thirteen user experience research techniques, along with advice about including user research in the product development cycle and practical tips for analyzing results, communicating them effectively, and converting research into action. “It tries to cover all the bases to tell you pragmatically what you need to do to conduct user research,” said Goodman.

She estimates that 75 percent of the book is new. “The book has gotten longer; it’s a really big book. But we don’t expect people to read it from cover to cover.”

“It’s a cookbook; like any cookbook, it suggests that you can alter the recipes as you see fit,” said Goodman. “You don’t have to use any of the methods; there’s not one correct way to do things that will always lead to the right outcome.”

Before beginning work on the book’s second edition, Goodman had twice co-taught the school’s User Experience Research course using the first edition, published in 2003, as an assigned text.

“I had used the first edition of the book in my own professional practice, and I really liked it and found it very helpful, so it was interesting to see how it worked in a classroom environment,” said Goodman. “Using it in the classroom made me very aware of what parts needed to be updated.”

“A lot of the examples hadn’t aged well,” she explained. “They used technologies that are now out of date, so they weren’t as meaningful to students.”

The biggest change in the digital technology landscape since the book’s first edition is the ubiquity of mobile phones. “The spread of mobile technology doesn’t just change the kind of technology people use, it changes the way you study people’s behavior.”

The book also includes new sections about remote and cross-cultural research. “Today, you can use the Internet to talk to people whom you would otherwise never have the time or money to meet,” said Goodman. “From San Francisco, I can talk to people from France, and we can share photos or videos without ever setting foot on a plane. Remote research has really changed the game. But doing remote research successfully requires a completely different suite of research technologies and techniques.”

Goodman is committed to the value of user research, not just as an author and a scholar, but also as a practitioner. “People are so much more interesting — and weirder — than you can imagine,” said Goodman. “And the ideas I come up with when I draw on observations and stories and experiences are just much better that the ideas I come up with on my own — more novel, more unexpected, and more inspirational.”