Saturday, 21 September 2013

DISCOVERY: ★·.·´¯`·.·★ Contextual Enquiry/User Interviews ★·.·´¯`·.·★

Through a combination of business origami and contextual enquiries, our group developed a physical paper mockup of an email inbox and requested users to sort them. This was primarily developed out of our own basic research into how people are currently told how to sort email, and if methods from the "early days" of information overload were being adhered to currently.

In order to investigate this, we went to our local library at USyd (Fisher, shock horror!) to retrieve the necessary historic materials (ok, sarcasm ends here I promise). Email Easy and Faster Better Email were written in the early 2000s recommended that email be sort into categories and that filing systems be well kept, even to the point that very important emails be printed, a practice that is not even a consideration for our generation.

(This is legit where Liz and Matt ended up when they went looking for actual books)

However, it is obvious that email clients are still following this model, however, the information overload hasn't ceased. Filing has long seen to be a very obvious solution to this problem. Although this hasn't worked to help this very well, removing this functionality is a very negative proposition as many people grow attached to the way that their email clients work, attaching to their own systems that are often prominent news when they are updated and certain elements are removed. Also, it has been proven that people have innately different filing styles.

So we set out to answer the following questions:

  • What methods are this generation using to 'sort' their email, given most of gen Y have never had a need to sort a lot of paper?
  • Are they frustrated with it?
  • How can we grasp their mental model for this process?
The Experiment- User Interviews

A number of different sender/subject paper cards were created and were to be placed under a series of subheadings (Inbox, Flagged, Trash, etc), with users allowed to create their own subheadings. The entire scenario was monitored by two team members, one to conduct the enquiry and a scribe, with users asked to 'think aloud' whilst under observation. This was tested on five prospective users to increase our understanding of how users sorted a busy inbox.
  • The majority of users allowed their inbox to accumulate emails that they did not know how to categorise, or were not motivated to place it into a specific folder. This resulted in their inbox slowly growing, eventually becoming a mess of unread and archived messages.
  • The sender of the email was found to be more important to the recipient than the subject, even if said subject contains words such as 'urgent' and is written in capital letters.
  • Emails from social networks/newsletters/promotions were generally ignored and left in the inbox, often unread. This was an exception if the email was from an unrecognised sender, where it was either put into the spam category or the user indicated that they would create a rule to delete these on arrival.
  • Storage space was found to be a fairly unimportant issue, as Gmail's large amounts of free storage solved the issue of deleting spam to hold space. No one was motivated to really 'clean up' their mailboxes like previous guides have recommended. 
  • In regards to the flagging/starring of important messages, users were found to use this system loosely, with no real criteria for what is significant, and often leaving emails marked as important for long after they are relevant.
Therefore, through a combination of design process techniques, the invisible and underlying work structure of sorting through an unread inbox is revealed, allowing our group to develop a far greater understanding of the users, environment and context.

We will now proceed to brainstorm with our other contextual research to answer

  • How can we streamline this experience?
  • Make it more relevant
  • Make the filing/sorting system innate without interfering with other controls that might have been previously learnt and cherished
  • Allow this to complement the browser and client experience, again not to compete with previously learned tools (causing users to leave after having a few goes with it)


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