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Methods – User Forum

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What it is:

A user forum is an interactive session between designers and users where all attendees contribute to the dialogue and express their opinion. This research method does not require a trained moderator and can therefore be designer-led, extending the boundaries of the traditional focus group format. User forums can be used to explore more open-ended questions rather than just focusing on a single issue.

Input:

Expertise:

Time:

Staffing:

Costs:

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Output:

Encourages rich, creative and divergent contributions from potential users

Best suited to:

 

DISCOVER

Earlier stages of design development

Developing design ideas through constructive and ongoing discussion

Providing a space for users to engage with the creative process

Working interactively with a group of users throughout the duration of a project

Characteristics:

DESIGNING FOR | WITH | BY PEOPLE

Type of interaction:

LEARN | LOOK | ASK | TRY | IMAGINE

Goes well with:

Interviews, Prototyping, Empathy Tools, Design Probes

What designers say

‘…User forums support design exploration by having an open-ended quality that focus groups cannot achieve…’ Rama Gheerawo

Examples

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Tactile Patterned Tableware

RCA design student Ikuko Iwamoto convened user forums with visually impaired and older users to assess tableware prototypes with different tactile textures and stimulate discussion.

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Challenge Workshops

The User Forum method has been used extensively within the DBA Challenge Workshops, bringing older and disabled people to work with designers in the creative process.

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Background and further reading

The user forum was developed by the Helen Hamlyn Centre as a critical user methodology adapted from the traditional focus group method to be more suitable for designers. Roger Coleman (1999) suggests that ‘their advantages are that the two groups get to know one another and become comfortable with one another over time. One disadvantage is that the users may develop some design awareness and so perhaps become less useful as research subjects.’

User forums with the same group of participants can be particularly useful in design research conducted over a period of years and work very well in the early stages of design education by introducing student designers to older users and/or other groups from very different backgrounds to themselves. Dong et al (2005) suggest that when organising a user forum ‘a mixed group of critical users are chosen to match the scope of the project. For example, users with arthritis and vision impairments may be involved for a packaging project to illustrate problems caused by dexterity and sight losses’.

Dong, H., Clarkson PJ., Cassim, J. and Simeon, K. (2005). Critical User Forums – An Effective User Research Method for Inclusive Design in The Design Journal Volume 8, Number 2, July 2005 , pp. 49-59(11)

This paper describes how user forums have been used during the DBA Inclusive Design Challenge.

Coleman, R., (Ed) (1997) Working Together: A New Approach to Design. Royal College of Art

This article describes the use of user forums in student design projects.