Information is gathered about people’s behaviour through watching how they navigate through a process / service journey, highlighting any areas where they experience difficulties.

Observation can provide new insights, additional to those related during workshop discussions.

Also known as

The tool

Observation may be:

  • Participatory

    In participatory observation you interact with the user as they use the service, for example by questioning what they are doing, or asking for their thoughts and feelings.

  • Non-participatory

    In non-participatory observation, you watch what the user is doing without interacting with them.

The kinds of things you should consider recording are:

  • Who are you observing?
    • This will help to inform your personas, and ensure you are designing effectively for the appropriate groups.
  • What are they doing?
    • How long do they spend on a task?
    • Are they frustrated?
    • Are they happy?
  • What is the purpose of the task they are carrying out?
    • What are they trying to achieve?
    • Are they trying to gather information?
    • Are they trying to pay a bill?
  • And so on..

Why use it

When to use it

  • Observation can be used throughout the service design process.
    • During the discover and define stages, use observation techniques to understand the current user experience and to identify problem areas you want to address.
    • During the develop and deliver stages, use observations to understand how prototypes work in practice and to inform improvements.

How to use it

You should give 5 to 10 minutes for each letter.

To get added value from the letters you might consider:

  • Asking participants to read their letters aloud. This is likely to stimulate conversation and the generation of additional insights.
  • Asking participants to pull the information contained in their letters together, categorising the good and bad experiences, and looking for patterns.



Similar to

Use in conjunction with

Complemented by

To record your observations, you may wish to use the following tools:

  • Sketching
  • Note taking
  • Photography


Whichever method you use, be mindful of ethics, consent, and law.


Additional information