Indi Young offers a practical and detailed book on her user research methods in Mental Models: Aligning design strategy with human behavior.
This semester I have the opportunity to concentrate on user research as an independent study, and I’ve decided to focus on content management systems (to carry my work further from a usability study of Drupal I did last semester). I’m reading MM’s because I have a gut feeling there’s little knowledge or research out there on how people need and want to use CMS’s (at least, I haven’t found it yet). Young’s models are meant to develop a deeper understanding of the goals and motivations people have in trying to do/use something (anything I suppose) while also situating those goals in the greater context of their everyday landscape.
The first major step in MM’s uses affinity diagramming exercises (hers with a team) to come up with audience segments. Her primary example throughout the book is film viewers, and in her first exercise basic tasks are listed, like, buy popcorn or think about the film afterwards. Lots of them, she recommends 200. I read that chapter before bed, and found myself half asleep & concerned about listing tasks for more complex goals – like what I’m concentrating on this semester – developing and maintaining a website.
There are definitely universal requirements throughout the different stages of a big job like putting together a website (and perhaps that’s just it for a more complex goal – breaking it down into major stages and affinity diagramming for each). Choosing a CMS, gathering content, IA, visual design, figuring out how various things work are some of the big ones. For some people there are a lot of personal and group dynamic issues as well. Concerns over aesthetics, managing users, meeting with groups of people to make important decisions, dealing with deadlines and competing interests – all of these play i big part in the job as well. The more I thought about it the bigger job it seemed, though potentially interesting in sorting out more natural and intuitive work flow models for CMSs.
Not the best night-time reading, but I’ll plow further into the book.