UX in the Trenches: What Do We Want From Our Users?

Information Builders
July 12, 2017

What do we want from our users? Do we want things we can understand? Yes…and no. If we can create an atmosphere and spirit of trust with our user in the interview session - the beginning of everything in our user experience (UX) world - then we expect her, the user, to be honest and open - and tell us the truth.

Will her truth match his truth? Or her truth? Maybe, and maybe not, but the only thing that matters in that interview session is that user. No one or nothing else. So, I’m looking and listening for things I don’t know. I want to hear about the things that drive her crazy in her current workflow because the team needs to know this, with as much foundation and compassion as possible.

Reader 1: “OMG. Did he just say ‘compassion’?”
Reader 2: “Wow. I think he did. Is he serious?”
Reader 3: “What? You’ve never seen him teach or present? Yes. He is serious.”

We have to start with an absolute understanding of the current situation before we get into what we can do to solve the problem.  Understanding the user has nothing to do with solving the problem right now - that comes later.

Right now the protocol is: listen with empathy and compassion. (I’m going to hit you with that again.)

Two Types of Application Design Work

Improvement: We have something that’s in-play right now, but not working very well so we need to fix it somehow.

This is what we have when we do our research and on a scale of 1-5, (5 being the superest application I’ve ever used in my life), we get an average of 2. Things are just broke, abysmal, stupid, etc… And it happens. Things change, new tech arrives, people get funky new ideas, and so the foundation shifts a bit. That rock-solid core we all believed in is starting to soften, and move around a bit. No big deal. Change is inevitable.

So we don’t badmouth anything, we just move on to the next phase in our relationship with our BI application.

Invention: There is nothing in place that fits the bill for this new project.

“Never heard this one before. We have to build something new.”

“So? What are we going to build?”

“Not sure. Maybe we should talk to the people who’ll be using it. Ya know - figure out what they need?”

“Hmm. Yeah. Sounds great. How do we do that?”

If you’re not having that conversation yet - we need to talk. If you are having that conversation, and that last part - “How do we do that?” - sounds familiar, then we need to talk. But that’s an easier conversation because you already understand that the best applications are designed and built after the right research has been completed.

And give yourself a huge 'attaboy' if you also know that including those users in as much of the design process as possible gets the quickest and biggest wins.

How Improving and Inventing Differ in Research

When we’re set with the task of improving a less than optimal application or workflow, we have to get to the bottom of the problems. It’s here where the user interviews are most critical and therefore, the more we can get into those problems with as many users as possible, the better equipped we’ll be to solve those problems.

We still do our research when we’re inventing a new application, but instead of solving existing problems, we’re designing something that will alleviate future problems. We can be a bit more creative here, in that we can gather info from users about what they’d like to see, but we have more design freedom because we’re not involved with anything familiar to the users already.

That Compassion Thing

Here’s what I mean - you can’t look down your nose at your users.

If, when you and your team are conducting your interviews, any of you - especially you in the role as Primary Interviewer - make any gesture that leads the user to believe that you don’t care, or think they’re ridiculously ignorant, clueless, whiny cry-babies, then you’ve lost. Big-time lost.

They will clam up and won’t tell you how they really feel or what they really need.

Because the emotion thing is a two-way street, users who feel that you’ll get upset with them if they tell you, the developer, the truth, well, they won’t tell you the truth. They’ll tell you what they think you can handle. They’ll tell you half the truth maybe. But they won’t tell you “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” truth.

This is the time to be human, someone a user with application headaches can relate to and trust with their challenges. Always go with the mindset that you’re there as the “solution provider” because your users need for you to be that, and they need to feel that open, objective, and empathetic vibe coming from you.

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