Three Steps to Fostering a User-Centered Design Culture
As responsible designers we must educate clients on the importance – both the validity as well as the viability – of the user-centered design process, one that gives due consideration to the needs of potential users. With the three steps that follow, we'll go over techniques that you can use to get your team thinking about what's really important with regards to the design of their websites you'll help them create.
Shattering False Idols
Anyone who's worked as a web designer or developer for a sizable length of time has had a client say "Hey, I've got a great idea for a website; can you help me build it?" While their enthusiasm is wonderful, this question is typically loaded with preconceptions (read: misconceptions). The process for creating a website is never as straightforward as even we would hope it to be.
It is with these projects that we must be most careful—the ones where clients seem to know exactly what they want. They probably have a particular layout in mind, perhaps some specific functionality that should be included. But more often than not, these images of perfection give little-to-no consideration for the users that will actually visit and use the final work product. What can we do with such steadfast clients?
Step One: Introduce Design Thinking
As with any collaborative endeavor, it is particularly important to ensure that all members of the team are fighting for the same goal. The earlier this is done, the better.
In effect, we want to move clients away from subjective goals ("I want it to look cleaner."), towards measurable, objective ones ("I want it so clean that sales increase by 20%."). By asking a few straightforward questions, you'll find the design that client's require isn't littered with nearly as many obstacles.
To start the ball rolling, have your client jot down five things he wants his website to do for him (don't be surprised when not-a-one of them has to do with end users). Next, inform clients how their goals will affect your design and development process.
Consider, too, forming an experience strategy.
An experience strategy is a clear set of experiential goals used to add cohesion to design and development endeavors. It should answer some fundamental questions, such as: What's our eventual experience goal? Should user's love our site? Should they feel that we're really really good at something in particular? How should they feel about feature [x]?
Lastly, get a development strategy put in place. In formulating such a strategy, the questions you'll address include:
What research and development methodologies work best for this project? What deliverables are best for any given stage of this project?
Although these questions are simple, they're extremely important.
- The Design of business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger L. Martin
- Complete Beginner's Guide to Design Research, by Andrew Maier
- Beyond Frustration: Three levels of happy design, by Dan Chisnell
Step Two: Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones
Before hopping into sketching interfaces and pushing pixels, we must first ask the ever-important question: what do users need?
Remember: without user research, design is meaningless. Make sure your client knows this, too.
So, how do we answer such a question? Well, with design research. That's how.
But you, the experience designer, already know this. The important part is getting the client and/or organization with which you're working to understand why design research is so important, especially considering that they probably have some pretty bad design habits in place already.
Back in the old days, websites were born from functional specs—cold, heartless documents outlining every functional aspect of the website. Needless to say, this took users out of the development equation.
Utilize prototyping methods (such as sketching or storyboarding) and employ user-testing to show your client what kind of feedback they can expect from their new website. Once you tell him he'll be saving both time and money by building his website with the results from your research findings, he won't ever miss his functional spec.
Remember: without user research, design is meaningless. Make sure your client knows this, too. Providing even rudimentary research findings can help everyone on the team make informed decisions as we move our design process forward.
- Sketching User Experiences, by Bill Buxton
- Prototyping by Todd Zaiki Warfel
- Shades of Grey: Thoughts on Sketching, by Will Evans
Step Three: Share the Wealth
Experience design is both a visual and physical process, so it clearly benefits from collaboration. As a designer, you likely have lots of research, wireframes, personas, and other deliverables filed away for the projects on which you're working. Take them out and share them with your colleagues.
Foster a fertile environment for design growth.
Listen to their feedback and provide your own. Foster a fertile environment for design growth. Storyboarding is a great tool, introduced at Adaptive Path, for this kind of collaboration. Once previous design deliverables have been shared and passed about, team members collectively pitch design solutions to advance towards the aforementioned end goal. The final storyboard is yet another fantastic tool to prompt further conversation later on in the process.
Regardless of the specific techniques or deliverables that you employ, collaboratively working on and sharing user-centered design deliverables helps facilitate a shared design understanding amongst your entire team.
- Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands, by Marty Neumeier
- Telling Your Website's Story with Sketchboarding, by Andrew Maier
- User interface design for beginners, intermediates or experts?, by Vibor Cipan
In this article, we've explored three simple steps that you can follow to blaze the user-centered trail at your organization. Don't take them the wrong way: these steps do not constitute some kind of magical collection of UX incantations; instead, they are merely illustrative of the way forward.
By drawing your project team's attention towards the following aspects of design and development, your organization is much more likely to think about its challenges in holistic, user-driven fashion. The rest, as they say, is up to you.