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User research for user-centred design

User-centred design is an iterative design process that focuses on the users of your product throughout every stage of the design process.

User-centred design gathers user insights by researching user behaviours and interactions with any digital product.

By identifying user behaviour, user-centred design allows an organisation to create a product that caters for the unique requirements of the user. This allows the creation of a product that is easy to use and accessible for the people who need them most.

Why should you implement user-centred design?

By implementing user research findings into your design, there are several benefits to your organisation. You can identify problems that your users are having. The realisation of these problems can unlock opportunities where your design can provide real tangible benefits to your users that your competitors have not seen. The identification of opportunities can help generate new ideas for services and features that you may previously not have thought of. You can improve the user experience of service users towards your organisation, increasing efficiency and ease of use. Through extensive user research, your project teams will not have to guess at what you think users need – you will already know exactly what their requirements are.

Why is user research so important in UCD?

Quite simply, UCD can be the difference between success and failure.

The more time you spend getting to know your users, the more information you learn about them. This means you can use data to make informed decisions.

From the user’s perspective, UCD can be the difference between ending their search and accomplishing their objectives from visiting your product, and not doing so.

From the perspective of business owners and organisation leaders, UCD can save time in the long run. It can improve satisfaction among your users and customers. An organisation that invests in UCD is also likely to receive far greater ROI than those who value their business goals over their users. According to a 2012 study, companies utilising user-centred design can triple their returns.

What is the user-centred design process?

Design thinking helps you root out the reason why users should or need to use your product. It allows designers to creatively think of strategies to meet user needs and solve a range of problems.

This process is not linear – it is often a holistic process that is carried out throughout the lifespan of a product.

There are five stages to this process.

Empathy

Sitting down with people through user research is the first stage in trying to understand the problems of your users.

Ultimately, your users are not robots – they are human beings who have needs of their own. Without this human-centred approach, you cannot create the important bridge between your users and your product, project or service.

A designer can set aside their own assumptions and focus on the insight gained through the research phase.

It is important for a designer to immerse themselves into an issue, fully understanding what a user needs, in order to implement the correct design process.

Define

Once the initial problem has been discovered, the shape of the design can start coming to the fore.

It is important to articulate the nature of the gap or problem in services, integrating the understanding that has been gleaned at the research stage through human-centred design.

Creating an action plan or problem statement helps focus the design on meeting the needs of the end-user, rather than that of the organisation.

Designers can even create a user persona to keep the requirements of the end user to mind during all stages of the design process.

Ideate

With the problems fully understood, now begins the process of generating the functional ideas that will help solve those issues.

Thinking outside the box should become easier for designers at this stage given the previous user research and understanding that has gone into user need.

Brainstorming ideas is a great way to think creatively and sometimes, thinking of the ideas that will not work can help inform ideas as much as those that will work.

Prototype & Test

Multiple prototypes aim to identify the best possible solution to a user problem. A prototype may be a quick pencil sketch or a low-fidelity wireframe. Scaled-down and inexpensive versions of the product are created so that your team can investigate the solution a designer has created. If any user-related problems come about that go against the expectations or behaviour learned as part of the user research phase, a designer can feed all notes into the design, creating a feedback loop that constantly informs the design as it evolves. These prototypes can then be tested. Great prototypes may even bring up a problem that you did not foresee – this is a good thing as it is preferable to identify these at this stage than when a product has been launched.

Implementation and how user centred design works together with design thinking

When all parties are happy with the final iteration of a product, implementation can then occur. This can be done confidently in the knowledge that you have researched and met your users needs. You have identified problems and targeted a workable solution to bridge the existing gap and give your organisation the opportunity to fulfil user needs more comprehensively.

UCD works together with design thinking to put yourself in the end user’s shoes and figure out what it is that they need. The needs of the user are the epicentre of why the tool is created.

Design thinking is broader than UCD in terms of the ideation process and finding innovative ways to meet a user’s criteria. This broader thinking then needs to dovetail with UCD so that the product, service or interface can then be created, providing the practical step to fulfilling what they require. Those requirements could not have been figured out without proper user research. The findings from that user research is the beginning, middle and end of any UCD process and should always be at the forefront of why you are creating a product.

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