Field research is vital when designing enterprise mobile solutions


Diagram created by Giant Ant

For many years now, we’ve highlighted the importance of understanding staff needs when designing or redesigning an intranet. This needs to be structured research (as outlined in the article Conducting intranet needs analysis), going beyond just “asking staff what they want”.

When it comes to enterprise mobile solutions, it’s doubly important to conduct this type of research, for one simple reason: the context of use. As shown in the lovely diagram above (courtesy of Giant Ant), using a mobile is not like sitting at a desk.

The environment that staff are in becomes paramount, and interactions with mobile devices become part of wider activities. There are many obvious examples:

  • Can the screen be clearly seen when used outdoors in bright sunlight?
  • Can the on-screen elements be easily pressed when wearing gloves in sub-zero temperatures?
  • Is there an ergonomic way of using the device for long periods?
  • Does the mobile solution actually match the sequence of work done in the field?
  • Which tasks make most sense on a mobile, and which should be left as manual or paper processes?

To answer these questions, field research must be conducted at the outset of any project, before strategy, scoping and design. This should emphasise “ethnographic” research techniques, such as workplace observation and contextual inquiry, over narrower techniques such as interviews or usability testing.

As we’ve often said, “you can’t design effective solutions for staff you haven’t personally met”. This is never more the can than for mobile solutions.

We’ve done heaps of this over the years as part of our client work at Step Two. Spending time in the field always throws up surprises, and uncovers issues and needs invisible to head office. It’s also tremendously inspiring, reminding all involved that there are real staff who are struggling today, often to do the most basic of tasks. And simple solutions can often make a big difference, particularly in the mobile space.

So it’s time to get out from behind the desk, and into the field!

James Robertson
James Robertson is the Managing Director of Step Two, the global thought leaders on intranets, headquartered in Sydney, Australia. James is the author of the best-selling books Essential intranets, Designing intranets and What every intranet team should know. He has keynoted conferences around the globe. (Follow him on Twitter or find him on Google+)