By mprove on Apr 08, 2009
Some time ago I attended the User Research Friday in San Francisco. For short, research is a very important early step of user experience design work. You need to know and understand the world of the users. Otherwise don't expect to design and develop a system that is of any use to them. Usability might be good, but it does not matter if it's not useful at all... [Well, I do not dive deeper into this discussion, otherwise I have to become philosophic.]
For Sun VDI 3 we conducted a few customer meetings that turned out to be very important to gain an understanding of the context of desktop virtualization. Note that this are not focus groups, or scripted Q&A sessions. They are open informal discussions on the current situations on site. I remember the system administrators of a scientific research lab with several visiting PhD students a year. Each of them needed a PC... Another one was admin at an online store selling lots of toys in the Christmas season. Their call center is staffed with many 'agents'. During change of shifts it is really the critical point to keep queues short on the phone lines.
All this leads to certain questions on our side, e.g. How is a user assigned to a virtual machine? Does it belong to her personally? Or is it reused when the next employee logs in? How long does it take to recycle a virtual machine? What are the general pool policies? etc.
In order to come up with reasonable answers it is important that you listen to your users. But do not simply build what they say. They are experts in their domain. You are the system designer and have to create a system that fits the context(s), solves a problem, and is easy (enough) to use. Hence - the goal is to build what the user needs.