Got Topsight?

If you’re doing UX work on intranet and collaboration tools, you may have experienced first-hand how research and design inside a company is quite different from when you’re doing it for customers out there on the web. In addition to the usual kit of analytics, you can really get to know the users. Do the job right and you’ll know them by name, learn how they work, see how they work with and against their tools, rules and processes to get the job done.

How many people do you need to interview? Obviously more than the mythical 5-7 people but I’ve found that the number depends on how big and diverse the organization is. You’ll usually find similar tasks done differently across locations (geographic or in the building), teams, units, specialties and departments. To succeed you’ll need to look at the work itself, not just the workers.

Happily, Clay Spinuzzi has written a book on how to conduct this kind of research. It’s called Topsight and is available on Kindle and in print. In it, you will find a guide on how do design your field study, how to conduct it and how to interpret the results. It’s very hands-on and includes several tools for mapping the work and making the small, medium and large-scale issues visible. Topsight focuses on the tangible stuff – information, interfaces, tools, processes. You won’t risk your intranet research project turning into a ethnographic study of corporate culture (which is in itself great, just not as valuable for our projects).

I’d love to get your feedback on the book’s design and content. Clay wrote it after teaching my team a half-year course in field studies and analysis methods from activity theory and actor-network theory. We’ve incorporated Topsight into several projects here at BEKK (where I work) and the results have been very positive. I’m interested in seeing how designers can use these methods to uncover how work is actually done and how we can help information flow more appropriately.

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