A New Era of User Research

This article explores how social media platforms offer rich data and insights, and by tapping into real-time experiences, researchers can gain valuable insights to improve products and services.

Social media dominates online interactions worldwide. Leading platforms host millions of active users monthly. It is an untapped resource for user researchers, often overlooked in favor of other methods. However, it provides valuable data and insights. Commercial sectors often ignore social media data, focusing on controlled user research activities. In academia, social media is recognized as a primary source but analyzed quantitatively. Recent years have seen the emergence of monitoring software tools that track keywords and capture data. These tools primarily focus on sentiment analysis, lacking nuanced details. So, how can we effectively conduct user research using social media?

Social media enables real-time, contextual research experiences. It allows tapping into users’ recent experiences, providing data in their language. This method is particularly suitable for studying mundane activities and capturing user behavior that may be poorly remembered. Highways England conducted a case study on the Dart Charge service. Facebook and Twitter were chosen as data sources due to their popularity among users. Salesforce’s Radian 6 was utilized for tracking keywords. Gathering data from August 2015, the research resulted in valuable insights for product improvements.

The four-step process involves defining keywords, choosing appropriate tools, gathering data, and analyzing for insights. Defining keywords includes collating various terms related to the product or situation of interest. Choosing the right tool is essential, considering the popularity of social media networks among the target users. Gathering data is relatively straightforward using search tools provided by social media platforms. Analysis involves sense-making, annotating data, and grouping related items for insights.

Social media research is best suited for wide-focus projects, design research, and situations without recruitment or time constraints. However, it may not be suitable for testing prototypes or highly focused briefs. Researchers need to be aware of potential limitations and biases. Balancing multiple research techniques is crucial for comprehensive insights.

In conclusion, social media provides a rich source of data for user researchers. It allows for real-time, contextual research experiences without the formality of traditional methods. By leveraging social media, valuable insights can be gained. Start exploring user research with social media today.


Off the Grid

Back in 2012 I was involved in creating a responsive grid system that revolutionized the way designers approached responsive website design, drawing inspiration from previous grid system work by Nathan Smith and Eric Myer. This grid system is now available for free from Adobe and Figma.

Before the Nine Sixty Grid System, designing a website that looked good on all screen sizes was a daunting task. But with this grid system, designers could easily create a layout that was both aesthetically pleasing and functional across all devices.

The system was based on a 960-pixel wide grid (and later at 1440-pixel) that was divided into 12 columns, making it easy for designers to create responsive designs that looked great on desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. The system was flexible and customizable, allowing designers and developers to adjust the width of content blocks to fit their specific needs.

One of the key achievements of the system was its simplicity. It was easy to understand and use, even for designers who were new to responsive design. This made it a popular choice among designers and developers alike.

Overall, the system played a significant role in making responsive website design more accessible and approachable for designers. It’s a testament to how a simple idea can have a big impact on an industry.