Collecting data during field observation is greatly facilitated by having a protocol of what you will be looking for with an outline of what you know of the users, procedures, tools and techniques they might employ during the session.
Once you have the data collated, grouped and categorized you can more easily see trends, best practices, and potential user errors. Identifying and mitigating these potential issues during the design phase is one of the key outcomes of a successful site visit.
The Medical Device Reporting arm of the FDA describes user error to be any error a user might make while using the product. If a product has been found to have instances of user error, they feel the product may be incorrectly branded, not have clear enough directions for use or not provide adequate warnings. If a product is found to have these issues, the FDA may require additional labeling to mitigate the potential use errors.
While doing site observations we often see many things we couldn't imagine because the context of use is not the same as the conditions we anticipated.
Here are some areas to keenly observe while in the field:
- How is the product held, positioned, manuevered and carried by the user?
- Where is the product in relation to the user?
- Where is the product placed when in use and not in use?
- How is the process, procedure, or task flow different than we anticipated or advised?
- How are the techniques or task steps evolving in the field?
- What supplementary tools or aids are used in addition to the product?
- What does the user need to "tell" the product?
- What does the product need to "tell" the user?
And most importantly:
- At any time, could some get hurt? Financial loss, pain, security, embarrassment, etc.
At any site visit, you will see something unexpected and you can imagine many more potential issues than you actually see occur. People will find a way do anything more effeciently and they will find ways to use the product that we never imagined. This is why it is so important to continue to do field studies on products, even well established products.
Clearly identify all the things you think might go wrong and try to design them out. Potential user errors are much like potential risk or potential side effects. Just because you identify it, doesn't mean it will happen, but it is better to know what you might want to avoid or what you might do to mitigate a error before it happens.