How did this exercise help you build empathy with prospective users? 

I found that this exercise didn’t so much as make me empathise with the prospective users, but actually made me look to understand the meaning and real needs behind recorded commentary. For instance, one user had greater commentary on the difficulties of navigating through a foreign town, however, his real issues focused on the ability to find shops that met his immediate needs, such as feeding his daughter. Although he had initially commented on the frustrations of traffic, his real need was food, not a navigable town.

How did the clustering of information help you to understand user needs? 

By placing the information obtained in to clusters, we were able to find patterns that eventually formed the needs of the users. If we were to have left these as a random assortment of data, it would have been impossible to find solutions. Each stage of clustering helped us to hone in on the real needs of the users and also enabled us to remove the outlier comments that would otherwise have been white noise through the design process.

What was difficult or challenging with the technique? How would you do it better next time?

The biggest difficulty I found with the technique was the need to find a solution once the data was obtained. I feel that this technique would be tremendously helpful had we had an initial need in mind, such as more intuitive navigation, or, how to improve GPS feedback. If we had a goal in mind we would have focussed more clearly on the indicators in the user feedback that appeared to underscore frustrations with the preplanned need in mind. Aside from this, we all had our interpretations of the potential needs of the users. This meant that one of us might have seen a cluster of needs focused on town planning, whereas another designer might have seen this same clusters as a focus on improved GPS navigation.

The sole thing I would have done to improve this technique would be to have a planned goal in mind. I think that if we had an intended purpose to the information we were obtaining, it would have been easier to find the patterns of data that related to finding a solution.