Depository of Extraordinary User Research Methods and some Indispensable Ones

A living collection of user research methods that sound like fun and make you want to get up and do them.

Technology Tea Party

tea party

Technology Tea Party is conducted in settings appropriate to the participant group, for example in community centres for elderly. Emphasis is placed on making the setting informal and relaxed with locations being selected based on participants’ ability and willingness to travel. Tea parties begin with a discussion, followed by interaction with technology probes and a final discussion over tea and cakes. The provision of tea and cake helps to create the desired informality, and seems to encourage participants to express their real opinions, rather than providing socially acceptable responses.

Tea parties are audio recorded, transcribed and analysed using template analysis to identify themes. Demographic information is collected using questionnaires.

Business Origami

Business Origami uses paper cut-outs of people, buildings, vehicles, computers and other technology on a horizontal whiteboard to create a miniature model of a system and interactions in question. Business origami was created by the design group at Hitachi. It can represent the current system as well as new possibilities.

Business origami allows participants to create a tangible, shared representation of the system in question. Participants do not need technical abilities to contribute and the simple components of the model allow for rapid exploration and experimentation. Discussion of the model creates a shared understanding of the system and assumptions about that system.


Design Probes



Design Probes – A research kit is prepared by the designer and given to users to record aspects of their lives autonomously, independent of the designer. The design probe may include diaries, question cards, postcards, disposable cameras or other tools for mapping and drawing. Design probes may be personalised for a specific user, who is given tasks to undertake, or the same probes may be given to a selection of users. Probes can be placed in an environment to collect information more generally from users of that space. Design probes are also known as cultural probes or user diaries.

Check out the beautifully made examples of design probes by Jayne Wallace above.

ADDED May 29, 2013:

Jar of Marbles

jar marbles

The Jar of Marbles technique is a form of heuristic evaluation which can identify baseline usability problems that can be fixed before actual participants are brought in. The Android team has published a guiding rubric of 17 design principles from the point of view of the user, like “keep it brief,” “delight me in surprising ways,” and “it’s not my fault.” Each user experience is analyzed on these 17 principles. For each principle that is honored, they get a single marble in the good emotion jar. But every time they fail, that bad feature produces three marbles in the bad emotion jar.

Added May 30, 2013:

Card Sorting

In a card sort participants create groups from content or objects and label the groups they generate. We can use that to understand how they think about categories and ideas for labelling. Card sorting is best run in small groups as you can learn a lot from listening to how the group discusses the cards. The most time consuming and trickiest aspect of preparing a card sort is to select content to include on the cards.

Content Analysis

Content analysis provides an established and systematic technique for dealing with qualitative data, whether analyzing existing records and archived documents, or new materials generated by research participants through interviews, questionnaires, or creative methods. Content analysis helps you extract themes and make meaning out of unstructured information, often with the help of software.

Co-Constructing Stories

Co-Constructing Stories-Derya Ozcelik copy

Co-constructing stories is a participatory design technique for early, formative concept evaluations to elicit in-depth user feedback and suggestions, revealing attitudes and motivations of users. The technique is motivated by the link between memories, experiences and dreams, and is based on the assumption that users can make better judgments about novel design concepts if they link them to their past experiences.

The technique involves user sessions consisting of two main phases, one focusing on recollecting past experiences in related contexts, and one focusing on envisioning future experiences that can be enabled by the use of the concept. In both phases, designer-user dialogue is established through storytelling. Storytelling is used by the designer to set the stage and to present the concept and by the user to communicate his past and anticipated future experiences. The technique results in joint stories about novel concepts.

Lego Serious Play

Lego has predesigned kits for their method of Serious Play. Its goal is fostering creative thinking through team building metaphors of their organizational identities and experiences using Lego bricks. Participants work through imaginary scenarios using visual three-dimensional Lego constructions, hence the name “serious play”.

The method is described as “a passionate and practical process for building confidence, commitment and insight”. The approach is based on research which suggests that hands-on, “minds-on” learning produces a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the world and its possibilities.

Added June 4, 2013

A Day in the Life

A study in which the designer follows the subject through a typical day, observing and recording events to build up a realistic picture of what actually happens. This may need to be repeated over several days in order to gather a balanced perspective. Mapping a ‘Day in the Life’ can illustrate graphically how time is assigned to various activities.

It takes commitment, focus and endurance but it is an effective tool that gives real insights from real people over the course of the day.


Scenarios are storylines that explore how people might interact with a particular design or context of use. By provoking discussion, they help to develop and evaluate ideas. This method enables concepts to be tested from a human and experiential point of view.

Scenarios can be presented through a variety of media including texts, illustrated storyboards or film, and can feature multiple characters to describe product or service interactions. Scenarios vary from real-world narratives grounded in everyday behaviour to more speculative, science fiction ones that can open up discussion around broader social challenges.


Real users do real tasks with either a prototype or an existing, live interface. Typically, a test moderator introduced specific goals like “try to renew your driver’s licence” and prompts the participant to describe out loud what they’re expecting to see, what path they expect to take and why they choose certain actions.

This approach helps identify areas where the labeling, flow or functionality doesn’t fit with people’s mental models and expectations. It can also help evaluate performance on certain tasks (like time saved completing a task) and the overall usability of a system.

Testing sessions can be done one-on-one with a participant and an observer, in pairs or in groups of participants.

Update Dec. 03, 2013

Mission from Mars

The Mission from Mars method, where the participants explain certain aspects of ‘earth life’ to someone who is ‘from Mars’, is especially suitable for children. Because for a Martian, everything about us is foreign, even the most obvious questions can be asked and children do not feel like they are tested.

Thinking Aloud

“Thinking aloud may be the single most valuable usability engineering method” said usability guru Jacob Nielsen in 1993. Even now the focus has shifted from usability alone, to the total user experience, the thinking aloud method offers a unique insight in the minds of your users as they interact with a prototype, or existing (competitive) product. In a thinking aloud test, you ask test participants to use the system while continuously thinking out loud — that is, simply verbalizing their thoughts as they move through the user interface. This method is cheap, hard to do wrong, and very flexible.

Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring means that children teach other children to use the product that is evaluated. The basic philosophy behind this is that the teaching process is analogous to explaining the rules of a game such as hide and seek. The peer tutoring approach provides information about teachability and learnability of software and it also promotes communication in the test situation, compared to a test person communicating with an adult instructor. The same technique can also be used between adults in the same user group.


Participants as co-researchers refers to a participatory method of research that situates participants as joint contributors and investigators. This qualitative research approach validates participants, making them experts and co-researchers in the process of gathering and interpreting data. Sometimes it is easier to get access to user groups when the person asking the questions is someone from the same group. This method is an interdisciplinary approach often used in the social sciences.

This collection will be updated often, so if you know any inspiring, unusual and imaginative methods, or real staple techniques that should be in here, let me know!

Please tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s