I’ve been out and about doing usability research in the wild (or ethnography, to give it the posh UX name) in some favorite places: in coffee shops and on fishing boats. Both are places of work on the go or remote working (there are some very successful strategies out there to get the best out of these types of workers too, as Apple's example shows). I wanted to discover more about the applications side, what devices were used, what other tools were used, what tasks are being done, and how what was going on around all the users affected things. In other words, I was exploring the context of use side of user requirements gathering.
Half Moon Bay, California: Fishing Boat captain using Square on iPhone for mobile payments
I’ve written about the concept of the "coffice" elsewhere, but it's worth bearing in mind, as pointed out by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times out that this "trend" of working from coffee shops (or houses) is 350 years old, originating (probably) in London in the 1650’s when coffee shops became places of trade for ship insurance, sugar, human hair even, and so on. The energy has changed now with today's patrons staring silently into laptop and tablet devices, where previously there was much human conservation. That is not to say that collaboration and exchange between users doesn’t exist though. It clearly does, but technology has changed its nature, as text and tech replaces talk, though there is some evidence that a certain level of background ambient noise does enable productivity! The data exchanged and tasks in evidence or course, pivot through the cloud, and happen across other devices and locations too. So, "work" can happen as and when needed.
As for fishing boats, well come early morning you can now see mobile payment solutions such as Square in action with captains taking payments on the spot with their iPhones, checking the latest Yelp check-ins about their vessel, and sending Instagrammed pictures of catches to their customers using their smart phones from the deck. Again, CRM in action, notably with a reliance on wireless data exchange that didn’t always work ,with lost connections from deep within vessel hulls and when out at sea. Offline versions anyone? And I wonder if they should invest in waterproof phones too!
My kind of research! Watch this space for more places and events. The consumerization of information technology influences our working lives all the time, and UX needs to research user requirements and design accordingly. We're all UX designers now...
This is what I love so much about being a UX pro. You can see it in action all around you, and have fun observing and thinking about how new solutions to problems might be. Besides, I could never let a creative challenge from Misha Vaughan to use my other passions as part of the UX story go by!