Observing the User Experience

A Practitioner's Guide to User Research


  • Elizabeth Goodman, PhD candidate, University of California, Berkeley's School of Information, National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, and Intel PhD Fellow
  • Mike Kuniavsky, Founder, ThingM
  • Andrea Moed, Staff User Researcher at Inflection

Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research aims to bridge the gap between what digital companies think they know about their users and the actual user experience. Individuals engaged in digital product and service development often fail to conduct user research. The book presents concepts and techniques to provide an understanding of how people experience products and services. The techniques are drawn from the worlds of human-computer interaction, marketing, and social sciences. The book is organized into three parts. Part I discusses the benefits of end-user research and the ways it fits into the development of useful, desirable, and successful products. Part II presents techniques for understanding people’s needs, desires, and abilities. Part III explains the communication and application of research results. It suggests ways to sell companies and explains how user-centered design can make companies more efficient and profitable. This book is meant for people involved with their products’ user experience, including program managers, designers, marketing managers, information architects, programmers, consultants, and investors.
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HCI practitioners, usability engineers, software developers, Web page designers and developers.


Book information

  • Published: September 2012
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-384869-7


"In this second edition, the authors update an important contribution to the emerging discipline of user experience (UX) research…This book is one of many noteworthy titles from Morgan Kaufmann in this subject area. It is chock full of practical examples and advice for both novice and experienced practitioners."--ComputingReviews.com, January 23, 2013
"Anyone even remotely interested in involving participants and observing their reaction and interaction with the product in order to enhance the overall user acceptance should deeply benefit from this book. I very much liked the practical examples, tables, and diagrams which have given this book a more vibrant feel and allowed the reader to feel like he can use this textbook directly in the practice of establishing some user experience tests. I think the textbook is profoundly informational and was a joy to read."--Software Engineering News, March 2012
"You'll like Mike Kuniavsky's broad selection of practical user research methods--presented clearly and usably. And you'll like his timing too: while recent books focus on the whys of user experience, many are now ready for the hows. Observing the User Experience does just that: It demonstrates how to discover what is in users' heads, and suggests how we might balance those considerations with business objectives."--Lou Rosenfeld, co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
"Wow! So many of the user experience research methods we have refined and used over the years are now organized and described in detail in one book. It is an essential reference for any practitioner."--Christian Rohrer, Manager, User Experience Research, Yahoo!
"Observing the User Experience provides the reader with a wealth of information. We now have a guideline that can be used to gain insight into those mysterious figures...our users. Knowing who our users are, what they need, and how they might use the things we build for them is the most important part of any product development cycle. Mike Kuniavsky's focus in this book is on the user experience as it relates to online interfaces, but ANYONE who builds ANYTHING can gain valuable knowledge from reading this book." --David Hoffer, Senior User Interface Designer, CTB/McGraw-Hill
"I love Observing the User Experience! This comprehensive guide approaches user experience research like never before, and is well-written, easy-to-read, and quite user friendly. It provides a real-world example of how research is done in just enough detail that it can both inform a CEO of the role of usability research as well as introduce methodology to someone starting out in the field. Bravo!"--Kelly Braun, Usability Manager, Ebay
"Mike Kuniavsky offers many practical procedures to conduct and analyze the results of your own custom usability tests. He shares lots of personal stories from the trenches, many of which are painfully ironic. The hope is that his knowledge will help spare you the pain of making the same mistakes others have made before you."--from the foreword by Lynda Weinman, Author and Founder, lynda.com, Inc.
"Kuniavsky presents information logically, often anticipating potential questions by providing extensive explanations. His text is readable and easily understandable. He incorporates interesting quotes from various scholars, keeping readers' interest by breaking up the strict presentation of information. The overall layout and conversational tone make the text an enjoyable read and useful reference."--Kalle Medhurst - Technical Communications
"The best general how-to handbook on user research remains Mike Kuniavsky's Observing the User Experience. For the reader who wants to integrate contextual design into a fast-paced development cycle, but isn't sure how, this book will be a godsend. Even when their advice can't be followed to the letter, the book, like the authors method, can be adapted to your needs." - Networker Magazine
"Mike Kuniavsky's Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to User Research is a welcome addition to the half dozen essential books on my cubicle shelf. This book provides lucid, personable, experienced advice that could only come from a seasoned consultant who has seen the good, bad, and ugly of web and application design. Its purpose is to give a solid foundation to any design team in the crucial beginning stages of a project by answer the questions: How do we go about learning who our users are an what they really need? And how do we do this in a way that helps us make a strong case for our design decisions to the people in charge?" - Andrew Hinton

Table of Contents


Part I Why Research Is Good and How It Fits into Product Development

Chapter 1 Introduction

Learning from Lego

In Conclusion

Chapter 2 Do a Usability Test Now!

A Nano-usability Test

A Micro-usability Test

What Did You Learn?

What to Do Next

Chapter 3 Balancing Needs Through Iterative Development

Success for End Users Is

Success for the Company Is

Success for Advertisers Is

A System of Balance: Iterative Development

Where User Research Fits In

Example: A Scheduling Service

Part II User Experience Research Techniques

Chapter 4 Research Planning

Setting Goals for Research

Integrating Research and Action

The Format of the Plan


Example: Research Plan for Company X


Chapter 5 Competitive Research

When Competitive Research Is Effective

Competitive Research Methods

Analyzing Competitive Research

Example: A Quick Evaluation of Match.com

Acting on Competitive Research

Chapter 6 Universal Tools: Recruiting and Interviewing



Chapter 7 Focus Groups

When Focus Groups Are Appropriate

How to Conduct Focus Groups

Chapter 8 More Than Words: Object-Based Techniques

When to Use Them

Dialogic Techniques

Writing the Script

Generative Techniques: Making Things

Associative Techniques: Card Sorting

Chapter 9 Field Visits: Learning from Observation

What Are Field Visits?

How Are Field Visits Used?

The Field Visit Process

Note Taking

Why Can’t You Just Ask People?


Chapter 10 Diary Studies

When to Do a Diary Study

How to Do a Diary Study


Chapter 11 Usability Tests

When to Test

How to Do It

How to Analyze Usability Tests

Anatomy of a Usability Test Report


Chapter 12 Surveys

When to Conduct Surveys

How to Field a Survey

How to Analyze Survey Responses

Follow-up and Ongoing Research

Chapter 13 Global and Cross-Cultural Research

What Is Global and What Is Cross-Culture?

Research Planning

Multilingual Research


Field Interviews and Observation

Global and Cross-Cultural Surveys

Analyzing the Data

Course Corrections

Building Your Global Research Program

Chapter 14 Others’ Hard Work: Published Information and Consultants

Published Information

Hiring Specialists

Chapter 15 Analyzing Qualitative Data

This Is Not a Fishing Trip

An Ideal Process for Qualitative Analysis

Typical Analysis Plans


Chapter 16 Automatically Gathered Information: Usage Data and Customer Feedback

Usage Data

Customer Feedback

Explore the Data, Then Go Observe!

Part III Communicating Results

Chapter 17 Research into Action: Representing Insights as Deliverables

Choosing the Right Deliverables

Representing People: Personas

Representing Situations: Scenarios

Representing Activities and Processes

Representing Systems: Experience Models

Putting It All Together

A Final Warning

Chapter 18 Reports, Presentations, and Workshops

Informal Reporting

Preparing and Presenting Formal Reports

The Presentation

The Workshop

Extending the Reach of Research


Chapter 19 Creating a User-Centered Corporate Culture

Work with the Current Process

What If It’s Just Too Difficult?

Following and Leading