Mar 11, 2009

User Research at

Marsha Plat's picture
Marsha Plat
Director, User Experience

The new site just launched last week after a truly collaborative effort on the part of Hot Studio and the Dwell team. Hot worked with Dwell on all aspects of the design: information architecture, interaction design, visual design and user research. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the user research that informed our design decisions.

As a user experience architect, it’s always nice when the user research starts with you. I’ve been a fan of modern architecture and Dwell magazine for some time, and was thrilled to work with the team to redesign their site. Of course, it wouldn’t really be right to design just for myself, so our team went about planning other user research.

Happily, we were able to conduct some original research. Hot interviewed 10 users by phone and asked them open-ended questions about Dwell. (What do you like about Dwell? How do you want to find content? What do you want to do at the site?) The interviews gave us some qualitative input to begin making design recommendation for the site. These open-ended questions were paired with a number of statements that users were asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree). These same statements were then asked on a survey to gather more quantitative data. More than 500 users answered the survey. The results were color coded by the average user rating and tabulated by three user types developed by Dwell: Design Consumer, Design Enthusiast, and Design Professional.

Survey results by user persona and rating

Survey results by user persona and rating

We learned a number of things relevant to our design decisions, such as that topic and timeliness are most important to the Dwell user (as opposed to what others are reading). Of course, numbers are open to interpretation, and it was interesting to find some of the data contradicted by other research, namely existing data we pulled from trolling the existing community site. Rather than asking about their preferences, we could observe users directly there, and note what people were talking about and what they wanted to do. We found that many users really do want to promote their design services. We also reviewed user comments on articles throughout the site. Users can be quite specific (and quite polite) about their preferences: “Bigger photos, please.”

Even the most abstract data can provide guidance. We reviewed the site statistics to see which pages users visited most and where they clicked on a page. This informed our advertising and subscription strategy. Lastly, we reviewed the site search terms to see how users thought about the content and how they wanted to access it. This led to a key discovery: users sometimes think about the content in terms of rooms (bathroom, kitchen, etc).

Search terms entered at

Search terms entered at

After getting to know our users better, and gathering input on the Dwell stakeholders’ goals and vision, we could formulate our strategy for the site. Rather than creating a separate space for the community, we recommended Dwell integrate the users through the entire site. We invited users to share their ideas, products, and tips. We gave more visual prominence to the number of comments posted so users could find the site’s hot areas. We suggested developing tools that would let users clip the site’s content for their design projects. (Part of this functionality is still in development.) At the end of our discovery and strategy, we all held the same vision: a site that truly integrates Dwell’s inspiring editorial content with a strong user community and deep resources in modern design.

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Joseph Chan's picture

Wow!!! You did a outstanding job at the Dwell Website. The colors, graphics, layout, and pictures catch your eye.

Makes me what to learn more about the company.

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