The most valuable asset of a successful design team is the information they have about their users. When teams have the right information, the job of designing a powerful, intuitive, easy-to-use interface becomes tremendously easier. When they don’t, every little design decision becomes a struggle.
You may not always feel like you have the time or the budget to do field studies but the opening paragraph of this article from UIE is very true. These field studies do not need to cost a lot although they do require time invested. This is definitely the luxury of having your own in-house team, the ability to conduct these studies and develop a powerful knowledge base within your organisation, reducing your reliance on outside consultants.
Don’t let the task daunt you, the basic principle is observe your customers/users in their element… with a little creative thinking this is often easier than you might think…
I’d be interested to hear from you what easy/cheap ways of conducting field studies you have encountered or even taken part in yourself.