User, Spill the Beans!
Being a User Experience (UX) Designer at Jayway, my skill set is very vibrant. In the course of a single day, it is not unusual to find me writing descriptions, drawing, prototyping and brainstorming in various ways. That is on top of organising insights, interviewing stakeholders, validating ideas and quality testing. My work days are never boring!
One of the most valuable competences in my UX skill set is the ability to get the user talking and, more importantly, get them talking about relevant things. The user, without even knowing it, sits on most of the knowledge I need to do my job. The challenge is, that if I just ask: “What system would you like me to make for you?” they will probably not be able to answer the question or they will describe their current system. Therefore, the UX Designer has to set the framework for a conversation where the user can share all that precious knowledge they possess.
I find it extremely useful to show the users something to get them started. In my experience, as soon as users see a version – a prototype – of a digital solution, they are able to give feedback, build on the idea and share their insights. The trick is finding the right level of detail for such a prototype. If you describe it with words, users may interpret your words differently than you do, and you end up bypassing each other. If you show the users a pixel-perfect high-fidelity prototype too early in the design process, they may struggle to ignore the visual look of the prototype (colours, shapes and layout) and forget to focus on the functions and the movement from one step to the next.
The right amount of detail in a prototype depends, of course, on where in the process you strike up a dialog with users. The further you get in the process, the more detail you can add to your prototype. At the beginning, however, the UX Designer usually likes to keep it plain and simple. I often grab a Sharpie – my favourite permanent marker – and draw each step of the user’s journey; I scribble down roughly what functions (and buttons) each step must include; and I bulletpoint what sorts of information must be offered to the user.
Last week, during a workshop with one of Jayway’s financial clients, such a low-fidelity prototype helped me gather feedback and insights from future users. For this client, we are developing a loan application management system that will be used by different stakeholders. My prototype visualised one stakeholder group’s application process and consisted of 14 A4 sketches - one page for each step in the user’s journey.
Most of the workshop participants came into the room a minute before the official starting time, poured a glass of sparkling water and looked expectantly at the screen, where a PowerPoint was ready for action. I got to the meeting room half an hour early, already with a coffee in hand and started the day by opening several tabs on my computer, each with a different version of my prepared prototype. I conquered most of the available table space with my multi-coloured post-it’s, A3 sheets of paper and coloured markers, and plastered the wall with printouts of steps in the user journey. All of this - visualisation tools, materials and prototypes - set the framework for a relevant conversation.
The wall where I had hung up my sketches served as the centrepiece for the workshop; participants got up from their chairs, inspected each step, asked questions, discussed amongst each other and spilled all those beans of wisdom I was looking for. As they were talking, I facilitated the conversation guiding them through the user journey, and took notes on post-its that I could then attach to the relevant step.
Even though I had already worked on the prototype iteratively with the client team prior to the workshop, the users identified some issues that neither I nor the client could have predicted. We even ended up removing an entire step from the flow, as users explained that it was irrelevant to their goal.
Following the workshop, my days continued to be vibrantly diverse; I organised insights from the workshop, refined the sketches and described each step of the user journey with concise text-paragraphs. As I finished the workshop report and wrapped up my insightful bundle of post-it-plastered sketches, I took a moment to appreciate the diversity of my job - being a UX Designer is definitely never boring!