Personal Inventory is a study of relationships individuals develop with the things at their home or workplace. This method uses information about people’s relationship with physical and digital products to design prototypes or models. Personal Inventory also helps to determine the perceptions and values of people.
When studying people and their relationships with objects around them, researchers look at answering the kind of questions that are listed below –
- How does the sample group use the objects or products around them?
- Do some products take preference?
- Are the individuals from the sample conversant with technology?
- Do digital products take precedence over non-digital objects?
- What are the implications of the products that individuals prefer on their lifestyle?
By gaining an understanding of the products a user owns as well as how those products compete with one another, the researcher can incorporate the insights to formulate designs of prototypes or models that are relatable for the user, that the user is likely to develop a similar relationship as other products in their possession and that address the user’s needs.
The objects under the user’s possession as well as the products that the user uses at home or at the workplace can be categorized based on and not limited to the frequency of use, interaction, importance, and sentimental value. For example, individuals have products that they take everywhere with them such as a mobile phone, phone charger, house keys, or a pen. Similarly, if they own a laptop and they work on the laptop then they carry it for meetings. An external hard drive that they use to backup data may not be an essential item that they carry everywhere but could be important if they’ve backed up a lot of data on it. Individuals may also be using an older model of products because of affordability issues or may even have broken objects because they associate fond memories with them like keeping a broken watch that was a gift from one’s grandparent. Again, there are many other elements such as accessibility (placement of a product on the nightstand or in the outermost compartment of the bag), grouping (phone and phone charger kept together in a pouch), and organization (books stacked in a specific order, color-coded notes or files) which also give insight on the nature of interaction with products and the behavior of users.
Personal Inventory method is usually performed one at a time. This is because the researcher needs to either visit the users home or workplace or needs to meet with them somewhere to investigate the items in their possession at the time. Additionally, this method involves probing the user about the objects, the meaning they hold for the user, the frequency and the nature of interaction with those objects. Probing or interviewing the users about the objects also leads to an in-depth understanding of their physical, social, and cultural contexts. This study, therefore, explores the users underlying feelings about artifacts that are not just restricted to their function.
Advantages of Personal Inventory
01 Human-centered approach
Personal Inventory is human-centered as it allows to look beyond just the object’s intended function and the researchers’ design prototypes and ultimately products that can be more deeply ingrained into the user’s life.
The researcher can understand the sentimental value as well as the cultural context of the users by observing their Personal Inventory and probing them about it.
03 Design direction
By understanding the role certain products play in a user’s life, the designers or researchers can define specifications that truly capture the user’s needs and elicit the desired behavior toward a product.
04 Lifestyle cues
Personal Inventory also gives specific lifestyles cues about the users which may not be as evident from other research methods.
Disadvantages of Personal Inventory
Observing and probing the users about their Personal Inventory is a time-consuming process. Some users may not be fully aware or conscious of their relationship with certain objects which may require the researcher to probe them longer or multiple times.
02 Observant and experienced researcher
The researcher needs to be highly observant and experienced at probing the users to get richer insights from the exercise.
03 Researcher Bias
The researcher can get too involved with the users’ stories or make assumptions about the user values that are not clearly stated by the users. This introduces a bias in the data collected from the sample group.
Think Design recommendation
Personal Inventory gives a deep understanding of user's lifestyle and it is to be considered where a researcher wants to discover certain elements from user’s lifestyle that could provide cues into design later. Say, for example, we want to design a workstation for millennial workers in a corporate environment. In order that the workstation caters to user's needs, it is important to know the functional requirements of this category of users. Understanding what these users carry on them will tell a lot about their lifestyle and these insights can guide the design of the workstation.
In digital design, we can use the same method differently: Let’s say, we want to understand a particular user group’s familiarity with apps. Using the concept of Personal Inventory, we could scan the users' mobile handset/s for the kind of apps they use on a regular basis. Knowing the users’ preferred app usage can provide insights into the user's lifestyle as well as preferences and that could guide the design of our app.
As a general principle, employ this method to understand a users’ lifestyle that could provide insights into functional needs. This is not to be employed when a simple survey or interview fit the bill.