Empathy with the User

Course reflection

In the first part of the course, we have focused mostly on different methods to gather user data, and how to use and evaluate this data. The data we have gathered during the first three weeks of the course were grouped into different categories.
We combine the categories with the possibilities the Citybeacon provides in terms of gathering data to come up with an initial concept for the rest of the course.

Framing the design problem

When working on a design problem for a client you often get a design problem that you can solve. The problem with this is that the client probably does not have a deep understanding of the underlining problem.
This means that it is up to you as a designer to find the real design problem. For example, a client asks you to design a new bike. The underlying problem could be that they need a form of transportation. With this new design problem, other products could also be a viable option.

As a designer, you have to get to the real problem that your client is having. This means you might have to rephrase the question you got from your client. To do this you probably have to investigate the problem on your own. Try to get to the broader question, so you can see the problem in a new light.

User research methods

One way to do this is to start with the user. By observing users and getting insight is their lives, activities and problem, you can get an idea of what is really going on. Users might be using products in a different way than you or your client thinks. This knowledge can give you a starting point to rephrase the design problem.

One of the easiest ways of getting user data is observing users in an environment that is relevant to your design question. Seeing how users interact with products or act in certain situations can give you a lot of insight into the current situation.
Another very popular method for getting user data is conducting interviews with your users. With this method, it is important that you ask a broad and open question so you don’t steer the answers into a certain direction.
A good way to start is by using the five why’s technique. When responding to your interviewee's questions with a “Why is this?” question you get to the deeper meaning of their answer. If you do this five times you can be pretty sure you have a good understanding of the real motivations of your user.
Making a toolkit for your users to use can get you some good in-depth information. When interacting with a toolkit user get new ideas, that they would not get when they are just thinking about your questions.

Validating user research

Once you have gathered a lot of user data you can start validating all the information. If you have topics that come up only one, and other topics that come up a lot more, the first topic is probably not that big of an issue as the second one.
A good method for processing user data is using an affinity diagram. This is done by writing down all the information you got from your users on post-its. You then organize these post-it’s in groups with similar topics, you do however not predefine these topics. The topics you end up with can be combined in groups that are a bit more abstract.
These groups can then again be combined in one or multiple groups that cover a large part of your user’s story.

My learning experiences

The basic user research techniques that were provided in the first part of the course were rather similar to some of the methods I learned last year during “User-centered design”. One method that I find particularly interesting is the context mapping technique. When making a toolkit specially focused on your target group and case you already get a better understanding of your problem. It is also a very good way to get information from your user. Because of the more informal setting in which people work with the toolkit they are far more likely to give meaningful answers.
Just going to a public place and asking people out of the blue for information is not very successful at all, I found this out the hard way. It works way better if you approach people in a less intrusive way, and if they can think about participating without having to answer immediately. Making a toolkit takes some more time in comparison to formulating a question, but the results you get are a lot better, so when I have the time during a project I will definitely use it again.

The affinity diagram technique also seems very useful to me. It is a very nice way to structure all the data you got. One of the benefits is that you immediately discuss everything with the group you are working with. This way you all know what information you got, and it is easier to get on the same level. I will definitely use this method in future projects and courses.