This morning we had a talk by Norman Alm who talked to us about his Circa project which deals with Facilitating Communication For People With Dementia Using Multimedia Technology.
Even though this is a subject matter that I am not engaging within my project this year I found his lecture to be very insightful and surprising. You never no what information you with find out when doing user studies. And indeed what insights into your own project or life you will get when reading, listening or watching something you view as totally unrelated.
This brings me on to what Hazel and Jonathan were saying about being aware and just letting yourself be subject to all sorts of things as somethings might prove to be very useful.
Something Norman said really struck a cord with me in that interaction is work, hard work sometimes... he noted in some of his user testing that stress levels went up when participants had conversations, even when that conversation was with a friend. I found this to be very enlightening and a useful piece of information. It is difficult to convey meaning when talking to someone, and sometimes the most mundane of conversations still require thought and careful execution, and as a friend told me on the way in this morning, this process can be exhausting. This answer was given when I asked how he could have stayed up so late last night watching back to back films that must not have finished till well after 1am, when at times he falls asleep when visiting me at 9pm! In response he told me that when he is on his own in his room he does not waste energy talking to anyone, so is less tired than when he is in company. That mere conversation, no matter how seemingly unremarkable actually demands a lot of energy and concentration! Just fascinating! I have now realised that I have been in the same situation. Sometimes when amongst friends I can become increasingly tired. At least now I wont seem rude or bored I can tell them they have tired me out with conversation.
The fact that interactions between people can raise stress levels is good to be aware of, especially when undertaking such tasks as cultural probes or any type of user studies. We need to be aware of the possible stress we may impart upon our users and be empathic to their needs.