Last fall, I spent two days at a regional operations center for a large transportation company. I was working with a team that was redesigning a fleet management device. We ran brief Pain Point Interviews with many of the truckers in order to understand what worked well and what hurdles they faced with their current devices.
Most of these interviews were conducted in a common lounge area. But a few of the truckers had time to give us a tour of their cabs. We asked the same questions. But this time, sitting behind the wheel, reaching over, and explaining their experiences, we were able to see the reality of our previous design decisions.
This interview format, sitting with people in the environment where they would use your product or service, is called a Contextual Inquiry. During this inquiry, you gather real-time feedback with both verbal and non-verbal cues. When a trucker complains that a button is too far to reach easily while driving, you can view the trucker’s position in the seat, watch the trucker lean, and consider how all of this normally happens while the trucker is driving 60 mph on the highway, not parked at the center.
The truckers are in their own environment, not a usability test lab. Real-life issues are able emerge.
The truckers are in their own environment, not a usability test lab. Real-life issues are able emerge. You can see that the cord is too short to allow the unit to swivel to face the passenger. Or you can hear the frustration when the screen is so bright that it’s difficult to sleep in the cab at night.
We brought our prototype model to the tour. After discussing their current unit, we mounted the prototype to the intended location and watched the truckers interact with the unit. We didn’t have to ask them if buttons were too close or far away. We could see it. And truckers would demonstrate why dials were difficult to turn, and why rocker buttons were much easier to operate.
We asked the truckers questions about our prototype hardware and software. We took photos and videos of truckers in their cabs. And we brought all of this data back to the design team. When you have a half-dozen truckers demonstrating the same problem, you eliminate arguments regarding the extent of the issue. The truth is captured in the photos. The design team immediately starts brainstorming solutions.
When you have a half-dozen truckers demonstrating the same problem, you eliminate arguments regarding the extent of the issue.
This interview works just as well with a service or process. You sit with customers in their own environments and observe how they complete the task. You ask the same questions about what worked well and where they had issues. Then you can refine your service or process to address the hurdles you observed.
The next time you are considering how to redesign a product or service, watch your customers as they interact with it. You’ll transition quickly from identifying the problem to designing a solution.