User-centered design practices are incredibly useful for helping us solve problems for the people using the software and services we create.
User–centered design (UCD) is a process (not restricted to interfaces or technologies) in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product, service or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. (Wikipedia)
Thinking of UCD as only a concern of a UX and design department can undermine its effectiveness, to get the best results from UCD it should form a part of all the activities that can effect our customer’s perception of our products and services.
Of course practice will vary across the functions of the business, marketing, customer service, product and development will need different processes in place but some of the things we can do are universal and if your team does not do these any of things in some form already this is a great place to start.
1. EAT YOUR OWN DOG FOOD.
It seems really obvious but I still find most us do not use on a regular basis the product or service we create. For our teams at marktplaats.nl this means as a minimum buying and selling products on marktplaats.nl on a regular basis.
Ideally we should also be using our products in other personas. How do new users see our product, how does a business user experience our pro seller features.
2. FLY ON THE WALL
Take some time out of your job to follow some of the people that use your product or service for half a day. This will help you understand how your product fit into their daily life. Even if you only manage to follow you mum you’ll have gained a valuable insight into the context in which your product or service is consumed.
So often when we think about a website or an app we concentrate on what the user sees on the screen. Shadowing show you what else effects the usability of your product, it could be user cannot read the screen because of daylight glare, they might get interrupted by the kids or avoid using your product in a public place. Contextualization helps us see how our product fits into the real world and enables teams to develop empathy for the people they are solving problems for.
3. TAILORS DUMMY
My mum had a tailors dummy in the spare room next to her sowing machine. She adjusts it to the size of the person she was making clothes for.
Develop a consensus in your team about who your customers are, create and visualize your own personas and stick them on the wall in your team space. Try also to understand how your customers feel about your product, thinking about emotion (not just data) make your personas more human. Their presence will be great for discussion, when you talking about ideas you can walk over to your customers to see if they fit.
4. WHAT’S THE PROBLEM
A project often starts with a description of the thing you are going to make (A Solution). Without an understanding of the problem you are solving and the people you are solving it for its very difficult to understand and validate if a solution will work.
Start projects with a definition of the problem you are trying to solve and a description of the people you are solving it for and how your solution will make them feel.
This puts the user in the middle of the story.
5. DONE IS WHEN IT WORKS
We get very used to ending a project when we ship a product or feature, when a campaign goes live or a design goes off to the printer. Any changes we make after a project is done often flow into a new work stream and have to compete with work on the next project.
Think of the project a done only you have validated what you have made works for the customer. Build validation into you project lifecycle and be prepared to iterate if you get it wrong the first time.