Week 1: The Design Process

As I start the third module of my MA in UX Design, namely (UXO720 UX Design) – we start off the module with a reflection on design and design thinking; these modules coincide with the final assignment of creating a UX artefact for the charitable giving sector. The design thinking process aims to change how I approach designing; by breaking down the process into three stages, design thinking allows you to step back and approach tasks from multiple angles.

Jeanne Liedtka, a professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School describes design thinking as follows “Design thinking is a method that provides a structured approach to innovation, based on empathy for the people who will ultimately use the products and services that are created. This approach is characterized by the use of prototyping and iterative testing to refine ideas based on feedback from users and stakeholders. Design thinking also emphasizes collaboration and interdisciplinary teamwork, drawing on diverse perspectives to generate new and innovative ideas. By incorporating empathy and creativity into the innovation process, design thinking can help organizations to overcome cognitive biases and achieve more successful outcomes.” Liedtka, J. (2014)

We look closer at the three processes that are used to approach design thinking here successfully:

  1. Empathise and design

When you empathize with and define the issues your users shall face, the start is a crucial stage in design thinking that allows you to understand the users and their needs. These early stages may involve creating visualisations, such as empathy maps, to assist the team in organising their discoveries and identifying opportunities for enhancement.

During the Empathize stage, I researched to comprehensively understand the users’ actions, expressions, thoughts, and emotions. This research aimed to cultivate knowledge about the users’ experiences and develop empathy towards their needs. In the Define stage, I combined all the research findings to determine the users’ needs and identify potential areas for innovation. This stage involves observing the user and analyzing the information gathered during the Empathize stage to uncover opportunities for improvement.

1.1 User interviews

For my assignment this week, I was asked to look at a user’s desk space and make improvements. To do this, I created a set of questions to interview a user and to empathise and define their requirements; the process can be seen here:

Upon interviewing with the following questions (see below), I took the answers and panned out the key insights from the results.

Questions

1. Do you like your desk space?

2. Do you feel that the desk space is cluttered?

3. Does your desk space make you feel energised or tired?

4. Is the lighting adequate?

5. What’s the best thing about your desk space?

6. What’s the worst thing about your desk space?

Answers

1. I do; I like the natural light surrounding it. But it would be nice to have more space to spread out.

2. As there isn’t a huge amount of storage and we are tight together, yes, it gets cluttered

3. Energised

4. Lighting is great. A lot of natural daylight

5. I like how it is open to the rest of the room, making it sociable

6. The leg room underneath. as there is a ledge for plug sockets that bashes on my knees

By defining the users’ requirements, I can establish a clear direction for the remainder of the design-thinking process.

Steve Krug defines empathy in UX design as “A key element of user research in UX design. By conducting user interviews and observation, designers can gain a deeper understanding of users’ needs and behaviors. Empathetic designers are also better able to interpret and communicate user research findings to the rest of the design team.” (Krug, s)

Here is a video explaining the three principles of design thinking from the Neilsen Norman Group

2. Ideate

After I empathised with and defined the issues my user had, the next stage in the process was to Ideate; this is an essential step in the design-thinking process because it is the stage where I can generate a wide range of ideas to find innovative solutions to the identified problems.

During the Ideate stage, we were encouraged to use divergent thinking, exploring various potential solutions without self-censoring or limiting ourselves to a conventional solution.

The focus is on creating as many ideas as possible, regardless of their feasibility or practicality. The objective was to generate as many creative solutions as I could to be later narrowed down through a selection process.

You can utilise many methods as ideation techniques, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, and SCAMPER, to inspire creativity and generate diverse ideas. Once the ideation process is complete, I shall have a broad range of potential solutions that can be evaluated in the subsequent stages of the design-thinking process.

My interview found the following issues with the user’s desk space, which I iterated into some key insights:

3. Key insights

Spaceby providing an option to stand at the desk as well as sit, the users can move and give themselves a sense of space by adjusting working height throughout the day.

Storageby having some draws under the desk the users can remove clutter from the desk

Socialmy design keeps the social aspects but allows for a side view of the window which may entice customers into the showroom. As well as allowing for a reception style standing desk when stood facing the door.

Legroomadd mains power sockets and ethernet points into the desk space for organisation and to remove any obstructions.

My key insights from the interview answers lead to my prototype design

4. Prototype, Test & Implement

I use the “Prototype, Test, and Implement” process to design an effective and user-friendly solution. I start by creating prototypes to explore and test different design options, sketching out desk spaces identifying potential flaws and improvements early in the process. Then I test the prototype by creating it in a 2d computer model and asking real users to observe it, gathering their feedback to identify areas of the design that work well and need improvement.

Finally, I refined the design based on user feedback and created the final design while continuing to gather feedback and make improvements over time. These stages are often recurrent, as I may need to refine the design based on user feedback. With this desk, it would be a case of actually building it to create a physical prototype.

“User testing is an essential part of user-centered systems design, as it helps designers identify usability issues and gather feedback to improve the design’s user experience” (Gulliksen et al., 2003, p. 404).

4.1 Self-reflection

During this week’s module, we were given tips that gave us the ‘do’s and don’ts of interview questions’; this list emphasised the importance of asking open-ended questions to evoke stories rather than just gathering simple yes or no answers during user research. The list also recommended other tips, such as using silence to get people to continue talking and ask simple questions. The list went on to dissuade interviews from being too specific, stating that “you never know what people will say, so don’t reduce possibilities” The list also recommends not to prime or generalise people to gather the answers in a skewed way.

This type of questioning helps to gather a more in-depth understanding of the user’s experience and needs, yet I found it difficult to take my focus away from the ideation of the design I was forming in my mind constantly in the early stages of design thinking for this task, this meant me to lead the way a little with questions that were matching my internal monologue.

Conclusion

This week’s challenge activity taught me the importance of talking to users about their experiences. If we, as designers, wish to create experiences for people, we need to understand first-hand what they perceive and experience through their words; we cannot assume that we know what they want and need from user experiences.

References

Liedtka, J. (2014). Perspective: Linking design thinking with innovation outcomes through cognitive bias reduction. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(6), 1247-1253.

Krug, S. (2014). Don’t make me think, revisited: A common sense approach to Web usability. New Riders.

Hertzum, M., & Jacobsen, N. E. (2001). The evaluator effect: A chilling fact about usability evaluation methods. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 13(4), 421-443.