https://pds.blog.parliament.uk/2020/01/31/what-inspired-user-researchers-at-ux-live-2019/

What inspired us at a flagship UX event

Morgane Peng, Director of User Experience and Design at Société Générale talking to an audience at UX Live conference 2019 in London

Two members from the PDS User-Centred Design (UCD) team, went to the recent three-day UX Live Conference at London Excel. Here they share what they found most interesting at one of the leading industry events in the user experience field.  

Chris Fraser, Associate User Researcher

Improving an existing product

My previous job was in research and development, inventing new products. Since leaving that job I have found myself working on improving existing products so it seemed this workshop would be useful. The session was led by Chris Gibbins of Baobab Avenue, a marketplace for ethical fashion. 

One exercise was called crazy eights. This involved taking a sheet of paper, dividing it into eight sections then taking ten minutes to quickly come up with eight solutions to the problems we had found in an earlier exercise. Then we were encouraged to let loose and come up with ideas which may initially seem bizarre or ridiculous. Chris made the point that it isn't uncommon for these kinds of ideas to end up being the most useful.  

It was interesting to see how different the ideas were. As a researcher, my solutions are mainly focused on how we can interrogate the problems further, and I think I slightly missed the point, but this task provided some interesting talking points.  

As the rest of my group were designers, it was very useful to gain insight into their thought processes and to be able to share mine with them. I took away a renewed appreciation of the value of iterating, and developing fresh ways to come up with tangible solutions.

Design and strategy 

I attended talk about stakeholder management by Morgane Peng, Director of User Experience and Design at Société GénéraleShe created three archetypes to represent challenging stakeholders. Each was shown as a cartoon, which helped to humanise them and added visual appeal.  

She identified the key issue in dealing with each archetype, the possible reasons for this, and then offered practical suggestions as to how to deal with them. The overarching message was to 'be an ally, not a resource', or to make efforts to work with them by understanding the issues at play and their points of view. This way we can influence rather than live in a state of conflict. 

The three stakeholders that Morgane devised were: 

Jean – Jean thinks that because his business is complex, the screens need to be complex and that users making errors need more training. Jean's thinking stems from culture. The advice is to start with small requests and encourage him to take a step back and see the processes involved.

A way to influence him would be by pointing out what others close to him are thinking or doing (the bandwagon effect) and finally to tap into Jean as a user rather than just a stakeholder. This way you can uncover his pain points and talk them through with him to encourage him to be more open as to why the design needs improvements.

Paul – Paul acknowledges the importance of taking a user centred approach but doesn’t know how it works in practice, he thinks it can just be slotted in somewhere into the process. The problem here is organisational and the advice is to standardise procedures in order to call out non-compliant projects and define the roles of each stakeholder, particularly the designer.

Make it clear what skills each person is bringing to the project. It’s also important to 'speak the language of the company/organisation' rather than use design industry terms which may cause confusion.  

Audrey – Audrey is keen on the idea of design but wants to use it for more organisationally-focused purposes such as dazzling stakeholders with presentations. The problem here is one of business and the advice is to make an effort to understand the business so you can be an ally within it. You can use design to solve the problems faced such as destructive behaviours from within.  

It's good to be reminded that there are reasons behind people's behaviour and that, as designers, empathy needs to be extended to professional relationships.   

Beyond the report  

Paige Bennett, Design Research Manager at Dropbox, gave a talk about communicating research findings through means other than reports. A quote that I heard throughout the day was along the lines of 'reports are where findings go to die', which had some resonance for me.  

Reports have their place. However they shouldn't become the go-to medium because it's just the way things are done. Paige offered suggestions for other ways of communicating findings: 

  • Workshops  getting stakeholders involved in the findings through a workshop can make them more tangible and can provide a sense of ownership for the wider team.  
  • Collateral – physical artefacts that stakeholders can take away such as stickers or posters – and displayed within the office can ensure insights and findings have ongoing visibility. Creativity can be exercised in choosing items.
  • Show and tells – informal showcases around the office which people can turn up to ad hoc. Paige stressed the importance of keeping these informal so they can become open forums for discussion.
  • Brown bag  also known as lunch and learn. Sessions which are more along the lines of seminars, where findings can be discussed and people can share their thoughts.   

I'll be taking some of these ideas and implementing them where possible. The idea of getting stakeholders more involved with research findings and instilling a greater sense of ownership among a team is appealing and I’ll be thinking about this the next time I have findings to convey. 

Isa Kolehmainen, User Researcher

Measuring the success of user research  

“What makes user research effective?” This question was the topic of a Google facilitated panel. Whilst we user researchers at PDS often take a practical approach and focus on how to make user research effective, questioning what makes it effective is looking at research from a wider, more strategic perspective.  

Interestingly, the panel agreed on most things (it was not a heated panel discussion), and one measure of success that came out on top was aligning research to what the business wants to learn and enabling that learning to happen. At the opposite end, on how to prevent failure, the panel thought that it’s crucial to challenge and influence the expectations from senior leadership.

For example, at Skyscanner, requirements for better accessibility came bottom-up when people started to organise internal meetups in such large volumes that the executives could not ignore them but instead decided to act upon their demands to recognise accessibility issues.  

Paige Bennett from Dropbox summarised what failure looks like for her. "If my recommendations aren't implemented – then I've failed", and she added that being able to communicate findings effectively is crucial and an important part of effective research.  

Becoming people-centred through design  

Lola Oyelayo-Pearson, Creative Director at finance company Capital One, engagingly walked us through the experience of working in challenging work environments, how to spot warning signs and ways to navigate them.  

Although the following tips were aimed at leadership levels in the design field, I believe they can (and should) be applied to all staff levels:  

  • be humble and colleague-centred and avoid building an 'us vs. them' culture  
  • look beyond the design task and embrace other skills and strengths that you possess as a designer 
  • work openly and collaboratively. 

At a closer look, many of these align with PDS values (‘Care’, ‘Confidence’, ‘Community’ and ‘Curiosity’) and we are all already working to achieve them, respecting each other and breaking down silos through collaboration. 

Read other posts about the cultural values in PDS.

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