wrote recently about the risks in listening to what users say they do rather than observing what they actually do. The bottom line is that people are not necessarily reliable reporters of their own actions or preferences.
Another reason to observe users is to discover the innovative uses to which they put a product, uses that may never have occurred to the product’s creators. The implications of such uses can be a great source of product or feature ideas.
I was vividly reminded of this during a bicycle ride this past weekend. I’m guessing that the designers of the Zoom Boom shown in the accompanying photo hadn’t conceived of it as a security device for construction sites. Here it is, though, providing protection for a trailer-based concrete mixer on a Sunday morning. It would be pretty tough for thieves to steal the mixer out from under the Zoom Boom.
While I design for user experience in software products, this kind of ingenuity obviously isn’t confined to that realm. Seeing examples out in the world is always fun.