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4 hours – 1 day

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  • Notebook

  • Photo camera

  • Voice recorder

  • Video camera

What is this tool and what is its purpose and benefit?


Observation is used to obtain information of how users interact with a topic of research as a way to understand how it works. It exposes how people behave in a research situation: what they do and say, how they react, what their body language is, what facial expressions or gestures are, and the things they are not doing. This reveals usability issues, what the user experience is, what is functional, necessary, wished for and non-functional, and from whose perspective.

Steps how to use this tool in practice

The same steps apply when working individually, in pairs or in a group.


Define the purpose of your observation. Answer the following questions: What are you going to research? Why are you doing your research? What will you do with the findings? How many participants will you need to achieve your objectives?


Identify the participants who will be observed. Consider not only the type of participants but also when and where you will conduct your observation.


Choose your observation method. This is closely linked to the objectives of your observation. For example, if you want to see the participants’ true reaction to the research issue, you can provide them with details about it and then observe what they do for an hour or two. 


Write notes. Focus on what participants are doing and not doing, their body language and gestures. Write down some data as well - how many times an action is repeated, how long it takes, steps covered, etc. At the same time, it is important to minimise the possible observer effect. Try to find the balance – be as close as possible to the participants yet influence them as little as possible.


Make a summary of your observations including your key findings.

Tips and hints for using this tool

  • Observation can be used directly on a service or a product when it is known that a specific service or product is a subject of research.

  • The results can be analysed visually using sticky notes and grouping these under identified themes. This helps to visualise information and quickly get an overview of it.

Other tools of this phase

6 questions for gaining a comprehensive view of the issue.

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A visual model of the service for research.

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A map to gain insight into customers’ emotional and cognitive perceptions.

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Interviewing with images to stimulate more spontaneous responses.

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A self-documentation method used for observation and reflection.


A map of all stakeholders, and their importance and relations.

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Interview to get a better understanding and insight of an identified problem.

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