By my own experience, field studies are crazy useful for developing applications because you can study how the users interact with the current version or a competitor's app. It usually gives you tons of ideas on how to improve the features of the product.

Can ethnographic studies (or field studies) be useful for brochureware websites, i.e. sites that are only about explaining the benefit of buying a product? What insights can you discover (or have you learned) when visiting a potential buyer in her home or office that became a useful input to the solution that you wouldn't discover if you only interviewed the user over the phone for example?


You can build up a better rapport with a potential buyer if you interact with them face-to-face; you can do a longer discussion session as it's less wearing doing it face to face; and you can learn quite a lot from your user if you see them in their 'environment' (particularly if it's their home environment).

It's particularly worth considering that interaction with software is likely to be just part of the 'buying process' - users will also look at their friends products; ask their friends; and are also likely to look at products in physical shops, if its a physical product.

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I have not done such testing, but I have used such sites which would have benefited from this kind of test.

For example, on my last vacation I saw a crowd in the street and discovered that I can watch a free, open-air performance. There was a poster with a web address on the stage. I liked one of the performing ensembles a lot, but when I visited the website expecting to find out more about them (or at least their name), I was disappointed to see that information on the line up is completely missing. This is something where user testing could have helped, and developer/acceptance testing would not have caught.

Just as with any other website, brochure websites have a purpose. This purpose is to provide the visitors the information they need. A website owner can guess at the information their users will want, but the guesses can sometimes be wildly off. A user test can help them find out

  • whether all the information users want is available
  • whether the information users want is discoverable
  • whether users have an instinctive negative reaction to some part of the design. Grumbling users are sometimes the only way an enthusiastic website owner can be convinced that a non-skippable flash intro or other similarly "useful" design elements are a bad idea.
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