AEIOU is a heuristic framework that can help you categorize and interpret observations gathered during user research and ethnographic observations. By providing an easy to recall mnemonic for how to code captured research data, it helps you turn raw notes into building blocks that you can use in Insights to ultimately address the objectives and issues facing your end users.
Start by planning your method of observation. In what context will you be observing and/or interviewing? Who will you be observing? How will you be capturing information (photos, video, notes). For some general guides, see Artefact's tips on conducting successful field research.
Once you're prepared, you can either take notes by hand, in a word document or spreadsheet, or directly into Insights. If using Insights, be sure to have a reliable internet connection. Create a new Group for each session or person that you are observing/interviewing to keep things organized.
Create a new Sorting Tool and add a column for each vowel below. Use the columns to sort your notes into the following categories:
A: Activities are goal directed sets of actions – things which people want to accomplish
E: Environments include the entire arena where activities take place
I: Interactions are between a person and someone or something else, and are the building blocks of activities
O: Objects are building blocks of the environment, key elements sometimes put to complex or unintended uses, changing their function, meaning and context
U: Users are the consumers, the people providing the behaviors, preferences and needs (Christina Wasson, quoting E-Lab, 1977)
Repeat the process as needed, creating additional groups and tools for each new participant in your research.
If you've interviewed/observed multiple users, conduct a higher level analysis by creating another AEIOU Sorting Tool one level above the Groups where the information was captured.
You will now have access to all of the Sparks created in each of those Groups. You can pull out key elements that were most intriguing or most unexpected and build a composite map across multiple users. It's helpful to use this as a starting point for discussion with a team. You can add another new column to the tool to capture any insights you derive from the discussion.