User Research

Team Size



User Experience

Project Timeline

4 Weeks

Project Goal

Research users using contextual inquiry

Project Overview

During July 2019, my teammate and I strategically executed an applied ethnographic study on the campus of Kennesaw State University. Our fieldwork was conducted within the campus recreational center. Our area of research consisted of investigating the meaning of the facilities' space. Our design research question:

What does the recreational center mean to Kennesaw State University students?

We applied various methods that helped connect deep insights within our research. Our team created a report to further explain how we reached a conclusion on the design research question.

The full report can be read here.


Using methods of applied ethnography, our team pursued various connections between students and how they use the recreational center at KSU and what it meant for students to have access to such a facility. 

From our research question, we had several core concepts we wanted to learn about:

  • What is the significance of the recreational center to the students at the KSU?

  • How does the recreational center shape the students notions of health and fitness?

  • What role does personal routine or ritual play in how students use the recreational center?

We came up with questions to ask students using the facility; these questions were open-ended in order to encourage our participants to speak from their hearts and simply converse with us in a comfortable manner.


During our study, we found that students see the recreational center means:

Student Fellowship


Academic Escape

The recreational center provides programs and services that encourage students to develop or enhance a healthy lifestyle. Our team decided to focus on those interactions through observations, which occurred with team members placing themselves in the field to complete jottings, which were followed by a deeper understanding of those jottings through fieldnotes, and face-to-face interview sessions. During these interview sessions our team documented participant responses through handwritten notes. Utilizing both observations and interviews in this study allowed us to learn about how the recreational center allows students to act towards their health and fitness goals.


Team & Team Member Roles

Throughout the different stages of this project, members shared and rotated roles and responsibilities.



note-taker, editor, writer, 

interviewer, and data analyst

Anthony Jones

Justin Chung

note-taker, editor, writer, designer, and data analyst

More specifically, during observations and interviews I recorded jottings. Following each session I created data cards, intentionally short, to summarize what was experienced in the field. I later recorded fieldnotes to gather insight and find deeper understanding around previously recorded jottings. I have visited the recreational center in the past, and felt a high level of comfort while interacting with participants during interview sessions.

I enjoy sharing experiences with different people and listening to their perspectives on life.

I took the lead towards designing the report because of my thick background in graphic design. After conducting our research and analyzing our data, the team agreed on rotating roles around writing the ethnographic report. Before presenting the final report to our stakeholders, our team went through and edited for grammar and clarity.

Design Thinking

Report Design Thinking-1_Page_1.png

Before putting any design elements together, I like to work through how information will be structured. In the image above I quickly wrote out what information needs to be included within our report. I also listed that headings throughout the report would be viewed in a san-serif typeface and the body copy would be in a serif typeface. Although nothing about the design is set in stone and will possibly change later in the design, this gives me a clear direction of where I want the design of the report to go .


Following the initial planning stage, I worked through various thumbnails in order to get all of my ideas on paper of how the report might be laid out. I go back through these drawings to see which sketch is the most dynamic and which will be the strongest fit for the information that we analyzed, while still having an aesthetically pleasing look.

Methodology - Applied Ethnography

Our methodology that we used for this project is a method called ethnography. Ethnography is a qualitative research method aimed at interpreting human culture. More specifically we used applied ethnography which is done on a smaller scale with less time since the scope of this project was done over 2 months. This is the most ideal way for us to understand the culture of the recreational center and what it means to students because being in the recreational center helped to understand the context of our hypothesis because we were able to understand throughout the point of view of the patroning students. The the method we used includes contextual inquiry which enable us to gain understanding on a micro level based on our time constraints. 

Participant interviews and field observations were the primary ways  that we were able to gain our insights.  Observations provided an opportunity to view the field as a whole, record details and visceral reactions about the facility, and view participants using the facility in their natural setting.  


Interviews were very helpful because we candidly gained insights directly from the participants that were very personally. Through interviews we generally aimed to provide a comfortable interaction as much as possible with participants in order to get as close as we can to how they feel. This data was then synthesized to discover facts, patterns, and similarities. Further analysis is done and all of the data is compiled into a report to display our research.

During the process of applied ethnography, I found that I was extremely comfortable engaging with people and soaking in their perspectives on their world views. I really enjoyed the experience of research, writing, and conducting a final product to present to the audience viewing it. This project gave me a deeper understanding on why many students love the recreational center so much but also what motivates various students to consistently work towards a set goal.


Project Breakdown


The observations of the recreational center were some of the first parts of research that we conducted and this was done at both the Kennesaw recreational center and also the Marietta location. We noticed many things, for example, the immediate colors of the rooms and the textures of the equipment and furniture. These details helped us to determine that this facility is well kept, cleaned properly on a consistent basis, and it is an enormous space with high quality equipment. There are many different areas that students can access for use like swimming pools, weight rooms, tracks, tennis courts, basketball courts and many others. There is always a friendly and helpful staff member available to help patrons and assist them with any of there needs or questions. 

I found it extremely interesting to observe an environment that I have been in before. In the past, I was not necessarily taking in everything around me and transform those thoughts into what a specific space may mean to someone else. Our team had to get permission from the facility managers and was given the thumbs up. We were not allowed to record any video or audio. This did not change our approach to how we would execute the gameplan.


At these sessions we sought out to have a mixed number of male and female participants to interview. Justin played the role of moderator while I was a note-taker. In the course of asking various students if they wanted to be apart of our study, many said no but persistence enabled us to have four participants to agree and sign consent forms. The four participants names were Josh, Tom, Courtney, and Zach.

To prepare for our interviews, Justin and I wrote a list of open-ended questions to ask each participant. We wanted our questions to be in this style so the interviewees would be encouraged to speak answers more than simply "yes" or "no". Each participant was more than willing to share their experiences at the recreational center and what it meant to have access to such a pristine facility.


Josh was our first participant that we interviewed. He came in the gym with a younger male who was not a K.S.U. student. They were coming to the recreational center to play basketball. When I approached him about the interview he seemed surprised but he seemed like he was genuinely available to participate. Longevity seemed to be very important to Josh because he said that although he seldomly participates in traditional workouts, basketball has been sufficient for fitness. He stated that he wants to be able to still be playing basketball when he gets much older. Josh has a strong stance on health and fitness and said, "life depends on health and fitness, life without it would be quick and short, most pressing thing in fitness is just being able to run and be active​​."

Our second participant was Tom. He seemed to be a bit startled when approached about being apart of our study. Tom mainly cares about playing basketball when he visits the recreational center. He will play with whoever is in the gym if he does not bring anyone with him; playing with other people is fun to him. Tom isn't concerned at all about his health because he rarely lifts weights or does anything outside of playing basketball. He stated that his diet is random and impulsive and he has no care in what he eats. Tom says, "the recreational center is extremely convenient and has grown exponentially over time." 

Our third participant was Courtney. Her main focus is to lose weight and burn calories to maintain a nice physique. Her primary method to achieve this is utilizing the swimming pool and using elipticals to do cardio. Courtney comes to recreational center once a week and she is happy to have access to it, but she would not pay for it if it was not covered in her student fees. Health and fitness is extremely important to Courtney because she wants to avoid the risk of diabetes that runs in her family. She wears a fitbit because it tracks her heart rate, calories, and leaves her feeling gratified by allowing her to see that she actually did something useful with her time and reminds her how close she is coming to achieving her health and fitness goals.

Our fourth participant was Zach. He alternates the type of workouts that he does depending on which day of the week it is. On Monday and Wednesday, he focuses on his arms, on Tuesday and Thursday, Zach focuses on what he refers to as ‘leg day’, and Friday is when he focuses on his back. He uses protein supplements and takes one to four scoops of protein depending on the day. Zach does not follow a strict diet and will eat anything that tastes good. He enjoys cookouts because he can ejoy his favorite food, cheese burgers, and feels “the best plates come in styrofoam.” Coming to the recreational center with someone gives Zach an added push and allows him to feel more motivated. He wants to be as hype as possible and an extra voice is energizing.


Most times in the field participants are happy to be able to have access to the recreational center for their fitness activities. Students lift weights while they are listening to personal playlists on their phone, with a variety of genres at their disposal or they are helping each other with weight lifting techniques. Some students might be in the pool swimming laps together or just playing in the water destressing about what is going on in their life. The basketball court is usually a very loud area filled with the sounds of sneakers screaching on the floor, balls bouncing on the hardwood, and students signaling to each other with different verbal commands throughout the game. 


All of the data that was collected was synthesized and two key points were discovered about what the recreational center means to students. It is a fun facility for them to safely participate in the fitness activities and they have a sense of fellowship when they are here.

Students are seen having fun in the facility and they are very grateful to have a facility that they can interact

with each other without assignments, projects, or deadlines, although there are study areas on both locations. 

A beeping sound at some of the doors signifies that there is some sort of alarm system in place as a safety measure for piece of mind and there are also friendly staff members that swipe in students with their student I.D.’s. Patrons of the gym consist of a variety of students that live on or off campus. Many students having varying schedules that include studies, work, and family life, making the acility hours convient for students to achieve their health and fitness goals.

Closing Thoughts

Fellowship is further defined by friendly association with people who share similar interests within health and fitness. Students appreciate the quality of the facility and how it helps push each student in the right direction toward achieving personal health and fitness goals. The recreational center provides students with a place where they can be themselves within a serene element. The quality of service that the facility provides through its staff, services, and programs gives students the security that they are achieving their health and fitness goals.