One of the most effective methods for getting to know your users and their problems. It will help you to find out even that which the users do not say out loud. There are two basic types of observation - active participation, when the researcher becomes “involved” in the research, and non-participatory, when the user does not even have to know about researcher’s presence.

You will need

pen and paper, standardized form


1 hour per observation


2–10 users


2 – depending on the type of observation

Use when...

  • you are implementing a new service and you need to know, whether it fits users’ needs
  • you know there is a problem, but you do not know where to find it
  • you need to confirm whether everything works as it should

Do not use when...

  • you want to know the causes of unpleasant experience with the service (it would be better to ask them in the Contextual Interview)


  1. Think about the purpose of observation and decide whether it is appropriate for your users to know that you are observing them.
  2. If possible, define the observed phenomenon beforehand and create a standardized form that is fitted for the type of observation or prepare a notebook for your notes.
  3. Go into the field. Keep track of even the smallest details. Make sure to make notes of everything that happened into either your notebook or the form.
  4. After completion, analyze your results and repeat the observation as necessary. 

Keep in mind that...

  • the observation will tell you where the problem is, not why it is a problem
  • observation can be both direct and indirect - you can, for example, study video records of some activity or you can log user’s activity in the online service
  • the more of you interact in the field, the more you influence others’ behavior and, in consequence, the results of your observation

Find out more

In the exploring phase, you can use the following methods…

Desk Research

When you need to quickly obtain valuable information

When you need to collect a lot of opinions in a short time

When you need a quick feedback

Download the book Service Design in Libraries

It includes detailed descriptions of case studies from both the Czech Republic and Norway.

Download the book  

Get the design methods card set

You will always have a ready help, which will tell you how to proceed, and which tools to prepare.

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