Below is just a selection of UX methods available to you.

If you’ve never done any UX testing before, we recommend you work with someone who has (if you’re an IS colleague, join our Sharepoint community site). That’s to make sure you’ve selected a good method for what you want to find out, and you know what consent you need to get and how to share your findings most effectively.

Before you start

Ethics and consent

Always gain informed consent from the participants or make a case to explain why you don’t need to.

Consider how you may want to use and share the data you collect: as well as sharing it with your colleagues you may want to take it to talks and conferences.

Write up and submit your ethics protocol and submit it to the relevant research office (eg the data protection officer?).

Protect yourself and your subjects – this also proves to stakeholders that you have a robust research process.

Recruiting users and incentives

Recruiting users can be time consuming.

Be careful with incentivising – you don’t want too many people just showing up for the reward. Print credits or a free hot drink are good.

With some methods you may just get pro-library users.


Purpose: to answer a specific research question.

How: by recording objective notes on how users are behaving in a particular space.

Identify and anonymise users by naming them A-Z.


  • Volume and traffic
  • Length of stay
  • Study activities
  • How users interact
  • Which desks and seats they choose
  • How they interact with staff
  • What they eat and drink
  • The devices they use
  • What they do online (Facebook, e-resources, Kent website, etc)

Put a note on the door telling people observation will be happening. That gives them a choice to talk to you if they’re concerned, or to choose another study room.

Why it’s powerful: it helps uncover the hidden obvious: stuff students are so used to working badly that they probably won’t mention it in feedback.

Behavioural mapping

Purpose: to uncover users’ desire lines and create more human centred design.

How: On a map, plot how people move through the space.

Try and capture everyone using the space during the period of observation.


  • Time in and out
  • Which seats are popular
  • Peak occupancy and perceived peak occupancy (ie do students walk in, look around and walk out again, even though there are seats available)
  • Choice of entrance and exit
  • How they move and use the facilities in the space

Interviews: talk to users one to one

Why? Because finding out is better than just supposing.

3 types:

Exit interviews:

How: Quick, ad-hoc interviews with users as they’re leaving the space. Ask them questions like:

  • How long did you spend in the library today?
  • Did you achieve everything you wanted from this visit?
  • What do/don’t you like about the space?
  • What is the best/worst thing about the library?
  • What is your favourite place to work in the library?

But be cynical.

In-depth interviews:

How: Ask them if they mind you asking them a few questions. Then:

  • Keep questions to a minimum.
  • Ask them to build on their answers.
  • Ask for examples rather than for clarification.
  • Encourage their narrative, not yours.
  • You don’t need to stick to the script – follow them along their tangents.
  • You’re building a connection between this user and the library, so try and build a rapport.

More about how to do interviews.

Contextual inquiry:

How: takes longer – 30 minutes to an hour. Observe them do their normal stuff, get them to do a running commentary.


  • Try to see them as the master and yourself as the apprentice.
  • Don’t correct their approach or judge their choices.

Why it’s powerful: it can reveal knowledge that the user is not consciously aware of and would not otherwise articulate.

Cognitive mapping

Purpose: uncover information about the user’s priorities, preferences and routines through a simple drawing or doodle.

How: give them limited time to draw a picture or map.

Time them and ask them to use different colour pens – this shows what they drew first, second, third (ie urgency and priority).

Follow up with an in-depth discussion.

Why it’s powerful: can uncover the users’ “learning landscapes” beyond the library – offering a more complete picture of their lives. What’s missing is just as important as what’s included.

Case study:

Diary studies

Purpose: get an insight into how users interact with our services over time.

How: ask users to keep diaries of their studies, especially their interaction with our services.

You could give them a paper diary preloaded with some prompts, or ask them to do it digitally (ie a blog).

Why it’s powerful: experiences are noted down as they happen, but also offer a creative reflection and evaluation of the experiences. This is the closest we can get to “following a user home”.

Card sorting

Purpose: uncover priorities and preferences related to a specific research question.

How: invite a small group of users (up to 10) to a workshop in which they sort index cards or post-its. Run a series of them to find patterns and themes.

Closed method: you write the terms on the cards and ask them to group and prioritise.

Open method: you invite participants to come up with their own terms.

Here’s a good article on card sorting from

Graffiti walls

Purpose: instant and barrier-free dialogue with students on their own terms and in their own space.

How: stick up paper and pens or a whiteboard, invite comments, and respond to them. Remove and replace when it’s full. Make sure it’s not near a service desk.

Why it’s powerful: it’s a good way of having a dialogue with students without in-person contact. May uncover issues users wouldn’t fill in a feedback form about.

Here are a couple of case studies:

Touchstone tours

Purpose: to uncover the meaning and value of spaces and services, and the language users use.

How: Ask users to take you on a recorded tour of the space and describe what they use and what’s important to them.

Put the user in charge, but prompt them for more information and clarification. Don’t correct or instruct them.

Ask them about points of fail (poorly designed services).

Be sceptical – they may seek to impress you.

Why it’s powerful: rediscover your spaces and facilities through the eyes of the user and find out what they call things.

Photo studies

3 types:

Photo elicitation study:

How: invite users to photo-document aspects of their study lives. Disposable cameras? Facebook albums?

For example, 20 specific things to photograph, mixing library/IT related, study related, and random.

Then interview them and ask them to explain their choices.

Why it’s powerful: provides visual, self-reported insights into their behaviours and priorities. Another good way to “follow them home”.

Contextual photo-interview:

How: ask users to choose their favourite study desk (for example) and have their photo taken. Then interview them about their choice.

Photo elicitation interview:

How: show user photos of library spaces and facilities and ask them what they think. Keep the interview very open – the photos are only the starting point.

Why it’s powerful: captures the user’s gut reaction to what’s on the photo. Can uncover hidden problems with spaces/facilities and give insights into their wider library/learning experiences, preferences and expectations.

Love and break-up letters

Purpose: get in-depth insights into how users feel about particular spaces and services.

How: ask users to write either a love or a break-up letter to a service or space that they love or hate, revealing why they use it or don’t use it.

Why it’s powerful: fun and creative for users to do, which results in great freedom and honesty. Very detailed and revealing. You learn more from break-up letters, but be prepared for some hard truths.