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Multimedia:Preliminary user research

From Wikimedia Usability Initiative

As defined on Multimedia:User research, the Preliminary user research is taking place in the very early stages of the project (October-November 2010). It is mostly formative and consists of Ethnographic interviews of users, discussions with stakeholders, focus groups, and possibly an initial survey.


  • Observing and understanding why and how users use the product
  • Identifying or confirming (critical) issues users encounter during their use
  • Collecting input from various stakeholders


Knowing and understanding the users

Goal: knowing who to design for.

Who's a user?
A user is any person passively or actively using the website. A participant is a user who edits the website. Participants are a subset of the user population.

What do we want to know?

  • What does the population of Commons look like?
  • Statistics Survey What are the different groups of typical users of Commons? What kind of users should we design the product for? (=> extract personas)
    • Estimate of
    • Statistics Distribution of participants by number of files uploaded (ranges)
    • Statistics Ratio of "own works" / total
    • Statistics Ratio of massively-imported files (large collections) / total
  • Survey Ethnographic interview What are the users' goals?
  • Ethnographic interview What is the mental model of the users? How do they think the product works?
  • Ethnographic interview Open talk What do they like about the product?

Participants' goals

The higher goal is mostly universally shared across all participants: sharing free knowledge. However, this may take many forms, e.g.:

  • The participant's goal is to contribute free content as an encyclopaedic article, a textbook, a lesson etc. and they occasionally want to add a media file to their work.
  • The participant's goal is to contribute free content by sharing their own media files on Commons.
  • The participant's goal is to seek existing sources of free content and make them available on Commons by mass import.
  • The participant's goal is to keep Commons working by engaging in meta-activities (category work, license review & permissions, quality review & promotion).

For each goal, we can derive a specific context of use.

Knowing and understanding the context of use

Goal: knowing the constraints & typical workflows.

What do we want to know?

  • Survey Ethnographic interview What are their typical tasks and activities to achieve these goals? (=> scenarios / use cases)
  • Survey Ethnographic interview Do they edit a lot? Upload a lot?
  • Ethnographic interview What is the context of use? (work, home? Place in a workflow? Environmental constraints (free license))
  • Ethnographic interview What knowledge is required to achieve these goals? (not to actually use the product; e.g. free works)
  • Statistics Should we focus our efforts on specific kinds of media types?
    • i.e. focus on most represented types because the impact is bigger
    • or focus on underrepresented types to encourage participation
    • Statistics Breakdown of media files by type (count by file extension?)
    • Statistics Distribution of media files by size (ranges)

Identifying major issues

Users have a unique insight in the product. As a consequence, they often request changes or new features. It is important for the design team to listen to these suggestions, because they can lead to identifying the underlying issues. In other words, users are welcome to request changes or new features, but it will only really help if they indicate what problem(s) this change or feature would solve. Storytelling is a useful way to achieve this.

What do we want to know?

  • Ethnographic interview How easy / difficult is it for a newcomer to participate?
  • Survey Ethnographic interview What are the major hinderances to participating in Commons?
  • Ethnographic interview Open talk What are the users' major frustrations with the current product?


  • A. Cooper, R. Reiman & D. Cronin, About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, Wiley, 2007.

Other resources