This is part 2 in a 2-part series in Experience Design. Click here to read part 1.
In most cases, experience design follows a basic flow: learning, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing, then iterating as needed. How you perform each of these steps is determined by the customer, the problem, your team, and time constraints. In the learning stage, for example, if you only have a limited amount of time, you might do a couple of large group interviews, rather than numerous individual interviews. Or if the problem has many variables, during prototyping and testing your team may create many prototypes with small variations at once, to quickly eliminate what doesn’t work during testing. While the major steps remain the same in most situations, there is no one-size-fits-all procedure to experience design.
Agile product development can also greatly benefit from experience design. The frequent sprints, build and review, sync well with experience design’s iterative ideating, prototyping, and test cycles. Before you even begin development, use the experience design process to create a great prototype that will serve as the basis of the product backlog; this will give developers a starting point to work toward. As sprints progress, add the increments to the prototype and test it again. Does the new product work better than the old prototype? This provides an opportunity to ideate again and update the product backlog with what you learn. By iterating frequently and being willing to update designs, agile product development and experience design blend to create a powerful combination that quickly delivers impactful products.
When you first come across a problem, approach it with an open mind and try not to promptly search for a solution the moment you start. Talk to the customer and determine which strategies you will use to learn more about the problem. Individual interviews, focus groups, surveys, job shadowing, parallel process exploration, and expert interviews are all great ways to discover insights about a problem. Your thinking should be divergent, searching every possible angle; this is not the time to tell people to stop talking.
Once you have learned all you can, analyze your collected insights and stories. You want to create one or more problem statements that your team will solve. Analyze what’s important to customers and where their expectations are being failed. You can use techniques such as saturating and grouping, creating an outcome chart, drafting “How might we” statements, creating a journey map, and reframing. Refine what you’ve learned until you’re certain your problem statement reflects the problem you are actually trying to solve.
Now that you know exactly what you are trying to solve, it’s time to get creative. Freeing your mind from the constraints of reality opens innovative thoughts that are normally trapped behind the lock of normalcy. Come up with as many solutions as you possibly can. You won’t prototype most of these, so there’s no risk to proposing a wild solution, especially since it may end up leading to a real possibility. As a team builds on one another’s ideas, they should always keep the problem statement in mind. To avoid discouraging people, try to defer any judgement until the end. If your team make-up is a mix of introverts and extroverts, split the ideation time in two. Use the first half for individual brainstorming, then come together in the second half for a team discussion. Keep track of ideas with post-it notes, on a white board or a projected document; everyone should be able to see the list as it’s created.
With every possible solution discovered, your team is now ready to select a few ideas for prototyping. Pick the solutions that fit into the customers’ constraints while also addressing the problem statement. Use your judgement to determine how many prototypes should be made. Keep in mind that you will have multiple opportunities to prototype again based on the results from your tests. Prototypes should be simple sketches of an app’s screens with arrows to indicate swipes and gestures. Aim for something that will give the customer a rough facsimile of the final product. Make sure the user will understand what the prototype is capable of and how to use it just by looking at it.
This is the moment of truth. The time has come to invite customers to test your prototypes. Be sure to take detailed notes and think about these questions: What do they like? What do they question? What creates confusion? Do your prototypes address the problem statement as you imagined they would? After the customers leave, have a debrief with your team to go over what you learned and discuss newly discovered insights. As a team, decide at which stage you should begin your next iteration. If your solutions were completely off base, you may need to start again at the learning or defining stage. If your solutions addressed the problem statement, but not as successfully as they could have, return to the ideating or prototyping stage to refine your solution. If one of your prototypes was a home run, congratulations! It is time to start development.
Experience Design in Action Use Case
A major railway needed a new way to test updates to its train traffic control system. Its current testing tool was highly manual, requiring dozens of clicks to test a single train moving across a single piece track. With hundreds of trains and thousands of tracks to test, this tool was a bottleneck to implementing updates to the train traffic control system.
The team spent a day watching the testers work, asking questions, and taking notes. This taught the team what it was like to be a tester. Seeing the frustration when a single miss-click ruined minutes of carefully planned work was particularly eye-opening and led to the insight that a more forgiving and flexible system was key. Interviews with the testers revealed feelings of under appreciation and a perception that those outside of testing didn’t understand why tests took so long. Increasing the speed of testing would be critical.
The team refined the findings down to two main pain points:
- The current system required an immense amount of focus and was unforgiving to mistakes, also variables could not be changed in the middle of a test
- Speed was key, the more test cases that could be processed, the faster the train traffic control system could be updated and the better the testers would feel
Numerous solutions were sketched, ranging from simple redesigns of the current UI to building an entirely new tool from scratch.
Prototype and Test
The team built clickable mockups to demonstrate how the testers would interact with each of the solutions. Each mockup was built to be intuitive by basing the controls on tools the testers were already familiar with. Based on the testers’ feedback and the development capabilities of the organization the team decided to build an entirely new testing tool. This would address both major pain points.
- Extreme focus: By designing a graphical user interface the new system would let users check their work before starting a test and pause and update tests to change variables on the fly
- Speed: Creating a speed dial would give testers the ability to run simulations multiple times faster than in reality, while maintaining real life accuracy
After numerous development and testing iterations, the new system was a momentous success. It took less than an hour of training to teach a tester to run the same test in fifteen minutes that previously took an hour. If a variable had to be changed, testers could easily pause the simulation, make the change, and continue the test without losing all their work. The speed dial quickly became a beloved tool, allowing everyone to work at their own pace. Because of the experience design process, the new system addressed everything that was important to the users, while making their complex job simpler.
Experience design enables you to find the right problem and solve it the first time. Frequent learning, iterating, and testing creates multiple opportunities to focus on and design toward what the customer needs. Opening yourself up to your customer’s perspective will allow you to better understand what outcomes will be impactful and what is just a shiny object. A great experience designer will draw on these lessons, as well as their fine-tuned analytical, empathic, and visual skills.
Click here to learn more about our Digital practice. Want to continue the conversation? Contact us at email@example.com, and check out the first blog in this series on experience design, Experience Design: Creating Products People Actually Want to Use.