There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computer’s frustrating.
— Weiser (1991)
A good user experience tries to reduce the cognitive load on the end user because when people are trying to think about many things at once they make mistakes and overlook important information. Similarly cognitive load limitations apply to designers just as much they do to our end users.
As a designer you not only work on reducing the cognitive load for your users but it is important to do it for yourself and your team as well. To achieve this we employ the design thinking process which, in essence, is a series of steps and deliverables that tries to identify who the end user is and what do they value.
The deliverables in the design thinking process, however, can be overwhelming to explore because there is a hot new UX deliverable in the market ever so often. For example first we had site-maps and wireframes, now, we have journey-maps and service blueprints and affinity diagrams. Whatever deliverable in the design thinking process you're working on the main goal of these processes is to reduce our cognitive load as a UX designer and researcher.
Some of these methods look pretty complex but at heart they are all different approaches to a same basic problem which is getting information out of your head and into the world where you can see it and act on it.
This is why externalizing the design information is so helpful. By getting concepts out where we can see them at a glance we are able to recognize and consider them without having to recall them from the memory. This leaves more mental resources available for analysis and decision making.
All of these visualisation techniques reduce cognitive load but none of them is a silver bullet that will sort every problem. These are just templates that are well suited to certain types of ux challenges. Whatever format it may take, making what you know visible is important to better be able to understand and act on it.
Now that we know the purpose behind the design thinking processes, in this blog post I will walk through a list of processes that I find useful to work with, when we should employ them, and what are their benefits. The overall outcome is to develop an explicit, structured and knowledge-based approach to user experience design.
Lets keep in mind these specific principles
- Start with researching user needs and the implications modality and social conduct for interaction and experience.
- Analyse multi—modal interaction, groups of users, their communications, activities and contexts of use.
- Think about input modalities, output media and interactive content to appeal to an audience.
- Prototype human interaction in a social and technical context.
- Create and reflect upon critical design practice and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches.
In design thinking the above mentioned 5 points are also the main phases, also known as i) Empathy; ii) Definition; iii) Ideation; iv) Prototyping; and v) Testing. Design thinking is a process for innovation that emphasises design and prototyping as activities that enable continual, formative evaluation with users, iterative refinement of design ideas, and learning. A collaborative, user-centered approach to design for creativity and innovation.
We also cover some data gathering techniques, such as interviewing and diaries, and Ux research products, such as user journey modelling etc.
Later on we also ponder upon the Reflexive Practices of user experience design. Which helps us critically but constructively reflect on your experience of practice, to consolidate your understanding and continually improve.
The Five Principles Of Design Thinking Process
Design thinking process is to reveal collections of constraints, and then achieve a harmonious balance is important. Viability (business interests) desirability (human needs) and feasibility (technical requirements) are to be considered.
To empathize is to understand the experience, situation and emotion of the person you are supporting. As a UX researcher is it important to observe your users and their behaviour in the context of their lives. Engage with people in conversations and interviews. Ask why. Watch and listen. Ask someone to complete a task and tell you what they are doing.
Insight is more likely to arise from ‘framework-free’, open-minded study of unusual/edge-live-rs/pioneers, than surveys with framed response formats. To understand how users’ apparently inexplicable behavior helps them to cope with their complex life, and makes sense from their point of view, we need to share their experience.
Find out more about techniques for empathizing with the end user. For example, empathy maps, which was coined by Dave Gray and gained popularity in the agile community.
To define is to process and synthesis the findings of our users needs and aptitudes in order to form a user point of view that you will address. Develop an understanding of the type of person you are designing for. Synthesis and select a limited set of needs that you think are important to fulfill. Express insights you developed and define principles
Storyboards, scenarios, user journeys, and role playing are likely to work well – It is important to be fast, and for designs to be just good enough to get the kind of feedback needed to drive the project forward.
Find out more about techniques for defining the user and their journeys. Defining user journeys early means better understanding of the product at large.
Focus on idea generation. Translate problems into solutions. Explore a wide variety and large quantity of ideas to go beyond the obvious solutions to a problem. Combine the unconscious with rational thoughts and imagination. Leverage the group to reach out new ideas and build upon others’. Separate the generation and evaluation of ideas to give imagination a voice.
Reframing is a useful technique for “getting out of a rut” (generating alternatives during brainstorming). What to do if you get stuck. – E.g. ‘power of 10’ technique. Change the context by increasing or decreasing a critical parameter by a power of ten e.g. if a typical assumption for time allowance would be 2-3hrs, what if we have 15mins, or what if there was 1 day spread over a week? Or add/remove a whole parameter e.g. what if you need not be present at all?
Find out more about different techniques for ideation.
Prototype and test
Build to think. Find a simple, cheap and fast way to shape ideas so you can experience and interact with them. Start building. Create an artefact in low resolution. This can be a physical object or a digital clickable sketch. Do it quickly and dirty. Create a scenario you can role play in a physical environment and let people experience your solution using storyboards.
Transmediation (translating an idea from one media into another) is a creative process. Making an abstract idea (sketch) concrete (giving form of interactive wireframe), and reflecting on it, makes us aware of new possibilities and provides alternative translations to the problem at hand.
Ask for feedback on your prototypes. Learn about your user and their aptitudes. Reframe your view and refine your prototype. Show your idea and let people use your prototype. Give it in their hands and let them use it. Listen to what they say. Let people talk about how they experience it and how they feel.
An experience provides a basis for useful feedback, a prototype should be sufficient to get the kind of feedback required, and drive the design forward. Knowledge is created by the transformation of experience.
Find out more about different techniques for testing and prototyping.
Emphasize with your user, know their intuition, recognise their patterns, understand their emotional intelligence and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. To address complex, emotionally meaningful issues creatively and impactfully do NOT over-rely upon rational and analytical data, though these are important, of course.
What really helps is the suitable brief system – a framework, objectives and milestones that accommodate for change (NOT instructions and pre-emptive solutions). Work with teams of teams with small, focussed outputs, especially early on. Avoid big teams with unfocussed outputs.
“All of us are smarter than any of us”.
Establish a team culture, encourage experimentation and take risks to explore. Do and ask forgiveness later (NOT ask permission before you start). Rely on optimism, confidence and trust (NOT cynicism). Be accessible and encourage participation.
Design thinking thrive because it has an evangelical zeal.