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Methods – Web Forum

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What it is:

Web forums are online communities that focus on a shared interest or experience. If a web forum exists that is relevant to the designer’s interest, specific questions can be posted online for the community to discuss and respond to (either directly to the designer or publicly to the forum). In addition, the designer may find general insights from reading existing and archived posts. This method provides a relatively quick way of talking to a wide number of people and can be very useful in gaining a contextual view of a particular topic. Web forums can also be used to post information regarding more detailed surveys and questionnaires. Permission should always be sought from the forum administrator when joining a web forum for professional purposes.

Input:

Expertise:

Time:

Staffing:

Costs:

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Output:

General insights on a specific topic

Best suited to:

 

DISCOVER

Early stages of the design process

Gathering personal experience on a particular topic

Building up a picture on a subject where little information is formally available or when users might be difficult to access

Accessing online communities

Characteristics:

DESIGNING FOR | WITH | BY PEOPLE

Type of interaction:

LEARN | LOOK | ASK | TRY | IMAGINE

Goes well with:

Interviews, Questionnaires, Day in the Life

What designers say

‘…In order to get further insights and feedback from partially sighted people without the need to visit their home… I used online forums to pose open questions and observe conversations…’  Chris McGinley

Examples

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Enlightened: domestic lighting for people with low vision

Designer Chris McGinley consulted web forums at the start of his project to get a better understanding about how people with low vision went about their daily lives. This research gave more personal insights into the problems people faced.

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Alternative View: developing smartphones with low vision communities

Yusuf Muhammad used web forums to gain insight into the type of software, hardware and mobile phones that visually teenagers use to stay connected. This led to forum members volunteering to be interviewed face to face and to test ideas.

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Background and further reading

Eikhaug O. and Gheerawo R. Eds. (2010) Innovating with People: the Business of Inclusive Design. Norwegian Design Council pp58-59

This gives a practical outline on using web forums as a research tool. It lists strengths, weaknesses and gives advice on how to get started.