We put out a call for stories of “aha” moments during user research, when something observed in the context illuminates an entire aspect of experience. Nancy Frishberg sent us this story. It’s a wonderful example of how people may not call attention to adjustments they have made in their environment.
Here’s Nancy’s story:
I did a series of home visits with people who had been diagnosed with a particular chronic illness. This illness causes joint inflammation, painful movement and fatigue among other symptoms, and can be controlled with various medications (and perhaps by diet).
I was investigating questions about how the illness affected the person’s work life, family life, participation in social activities, whether any regular activities had been curtailed, and what changes the doctor recommended to the drug regimen or diet or other adjustments.
I worked with one woman who had been living with the illness for at least 7 years. Throughout our time together, she told me that the illness had little or no effect on her activities, and that she was healthy for all external purposes. Instead, we talked about our mutual enjoyment of the movies and she described a recent reunion with high school girlfriends, now all approaching retirement.
She owned a hairdressing studio, and felt responsibility to her (aging) customers to continue to provide them with service, though her husband had already retired. Her customers didn’t know the extent of her illness, but just that she had aches and pains from time to time.
On my last visit with her, she asked if she could blow out my hair. I thought about it, and couldn’t figure out why not. I hadn’t taken the time to do anything other than let my chin-length straight hair air-dry. So we spent the final 20 minutes of our visit with her styling my hair.
Where’s the aha?
She stood, while I sat. She used an ionic brush, an electronic dryer that looked something like this – different from the ones I’m used to. http://www.conair.com/images/hc_bc171cs.jpg
She worked with both hands: The dominant hand holds the dryer-brush for blowing warm air, shaping of the section of hair at the same time, while the non-dominant hand uses the tail of a comb to separate out sections of the hair for attention.
What’s most noteworthy is that the device is about half the weight of an ordinary hair dryer (1.1lbs vs 2-3 lbs), which means that she had figured out a way to continue her work while reducing the physical demands of holding a heavy device.
She did not make any verbal reference to the difference in effort, but merely recommended that I might like to try this device at home, and that it was her favorite at the salon as well.
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