User centered design is an approach to solving a problem that starts with the people you’re designing for, and ends with new solutions that are designed to suit their needs.
As a designer, I follow a core value that I can empathise with others and let go of my own bias when finding solutions to their needs. After all, we often find ourselves designing for people who are quite different from us, with different needs, desires, skills, technology and time.
We have always designed our products, services, machines etc, for the people who use them. It’s logical. Design for the person using the product. Let’s go deeper into the rationale for designing this way.
Why is user centered design important?
Good User Centered Design or User Experience Design (UX) finds the right balance between the goals of the business and the user’s goals and technology.
As designers on one side of the balance, we tend to think we know everything. We think that what we create as an interface solution is the best solution for our users. Usually because it looks good.
User centered design recognises a common problem surrounding design, is the misconception that just because a design looks good, it is the ‘best’ possible solution. As such, there is a risk of imbalance: it is easy for a designer (specifically interface designers) to overlook their users and not consider how they will interact with the product.
As business or project leaders, we make assumptions. We think we know and understand our target market and our customers. We think we have a product that solves a problem. And we think our users want that problem to be solved.
The user centered design process makes sure all of our assumptions about our product and design are correct, simply by designing with the users in mind; then confirming our assumptions by asking the users.
So how do we do this? We use a user centered design process. The process isn’t a one size fits all solution for every project, but it works as a framework for us to always think of the end user in all of our decisions.
Our process can scale to be applied to new products and projects or to solve small sections of existing websites that should be performing better. This process can adapt to each project, ensuring we achieve individual project objectives.
The user centered design process can be broken into two main sections. The first is around truly understanding our users. The second is where we solve the problem. The end goal is a website or product that solves a problem users actually want solved, is useful to the user and can be built using technology that aligns with the business’ project goals and restrictions.
Step 1 - Identify and Empathise (What is this thing?)
It should be no surprise that step one is to empathise with our users, to understand and share their feelings. To walk in their shoes. So how do we do that?
Research. We get to know our users. If this is a new product or website, then the research may start simply by looking at existing competitors, reading articles and journals to start to identify who our users are.
The best way to get to know your users? We talk to them. We want to get some real quality data on our users. Interviewing users at various stages of the project is important. User interviews are extremely valuable in understanding their wants and needs in this initial phase.
One method we use is empathy mapping. Empathy maps are a great way to understand your user and can be used at various stages of your project. An empathy map records what a user is saying + doing and what they are thinking + feeling.
Step 2 - Define (Who’s using this thing?)
We take all the information we learnt about our users in the initial phase and we start to really understand our users. At this stage, the outcomes from talking with our users may change the initial project objectives.
After collating information we found from researching and talking to our users, we can start to build our user personas. Most projects will have a primary and secondary persona. It is really important we apply a user persona to properly empathise with the user throughout the project. We need to think of our users as people. For example: “This is Jane, she is 31 years old, has a 3 year old daughter and 1 year old son. Jane works 3 days a week as a financial officer...”
If we wanted to go a bit deeper and look for more opportunities to help our users we could create some journey maps. A journey map is mapping sections of a person's day to help us pinpoint moments where our product could make their lives better or where current products are letting them down.
Step 3 - Ideas (let’s start solving this thing)
So we’ve worked out what our problem is and who we are solving the problem for, now it’s time to have some fun. Start brainstorming ideas. Working through solutions. Initially there is no right or wrong answer. Have fun. At this stage there is no wrong idea. Something crazy and out there might evolve into a unique and successful solution.
One workshop tool we use is to write down as many ideas or features that could work to solve the problem within 5 minutes. Only a small sentence. One idea per post-it. We then group our responses and start to identify any patterns. We then repeat the process because one person's idea can trigger new ideas from other people in the workshop. Again, the ideas are mapped and grouped to see the patterns that are emerging. These quick workshops are really effective when involving people with different backgrounds - UX designers, developers, project managers, etc.
From the patterns that emerge, the workshop group decides on the best ideas or features to take into the prototyping phase.
Step 4 - Prototype (Let’s make this thing work)
A prototype is a simplified version of the final product, and is usually the starting block of the final product. It doesn’t need to work. But needs to in some way mimic the behaviour of the final product. It should be easy to change. It should be fast to produce. The real goal of a prototype is to test if the interface and all the functionality and content makes sense to users and is aligned with the business/ product goals.
For larger projects, this might involve sitemaps or flow diagrams which then lead to simple and quick to test prototypes. For new products and processes, working towards creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or Risk Assumption Test (RAT) prototype, using only the ideas and solutions that are essential, will prove valuable in sharing your ideas and testing with users.
What goes into our prototypes is what we have learned in the previous 3 steps plus our industry knowledge on standard practices that users are comfortable with.
In the early stages, your prototypes should be extremely simple. One example would be a couple of sketches and using an app like POP, which stands for prototyping on paper, where you sketch your layout on a piece of paper, take a photo on your phone of your layouts and add links and basic functionality to create a working prototype in minutes. This quick rapid prototyping will save plenty of time and budget later on in the project.
To make a prototype to a standard we would use to test on actual users, our preferred tools are Adobe XD or Sketch with Invision App. These slighter higher level prototypes still have no colours or branding.
Step 5 - Test (Does this thing actually work?)
Now that we have worked through some initial basic prototypes, the team agrees they have a solution they think will work. So naturally, because we are designing for the user we should test our prototype with our users.
User testing can happen at multiple points through the process and can be achieved in many ways. The goal of user testing is to learn from how our users interact with the product so we can make it better.
User testing in person is a good way to be able to record how your user interacts with the product, what they say, what they don’t say and if their needs have been met. A user is invited in and you introduce yourself, make them feel comfortable, explain the testing process and introduce them to the product interface. Depending on what level the prototype is at, the first test is to ask the user after 5-20 seconds what they think this product is about. What does it do? Is it clear? Is it a news site? Is it a fitness app? The next question may be “where do you sign up?”. “Can you navigate to the first article?”. Depending on the product and your goals the questions will vary.
During the interview, it is important to pay attention to the user and avoid taking lots of notes as this can be distracting to the user and you may miss visual cues. If the user has allowed you to record them during the process it can be a good idea to write down the time when something worth noting happens, so you can review this later and in greater detail via the recording.
If the interview can’t happen in person, there are many solutions out there. Something as basic as Google Hangout and sharing screens while you watch the user navigate can be valuable. It is also important that the majority of people testing the product are the type of people who will ultimately be using the product.
After even one interview you may have identified some areas for improvement. Make these changes and test again. Don’t get too attached to your initial designs as they will change.
Step 6 - Repeat (What have we learned?)
After our initial user testing is complete, it is inevitable we would have found many improvements we can make. Make these changes to the product and test again. The testing process is ongoing. Once the interface design is complete you may wish to test again. Or run some A B testing after the product is live, and compare the data. Test. Learn. Revise. Repeat.
And thats it...
Remember to balance the goals of the user and the business. Design for the person using the product. Craft User Centred Design as a framework for us to always think of the end user in all of our decisions. Rather than a ‘Me not You’ perspective, your business stands to gain customer respect, buy-in and empathy from a ‘Me and You’ approach to keep us all happy.
Thank you for browsing this post, stay tuned for more from Internetrix. Pick up the phone, Live Chat, or email us if you would like us to share our User Centred Experience skills, case studies, and knowledge to achieve your business goals and targets.
Internetrix combines digital consulting with winning website design, smart website development and strong digital analytics and digital marketing skills to drive revenue or cut costs for our clients. We deliver web-based consulting, development and performance projects to customers across the Asia Pacific ranging from small business sole traders to ASX listed businesses and all levels of Australian government.