The Power of User-Centric Design
March 4, 2019

From understanding to innovation


User centric thinking, also known as “design thinking” has taken the business world by storm. Many organizations, like Ford, Capital One and AIRBNB have embraced it. But design thinking doesn’t happen overnight. It is a fundamental shift in how a company is thinking about their products. And although it can be challenging to implement, it can future proof your company.
 

Understanding the problem, holistically


At Vulcan we traditionally designed things in a techno-centric way, often validating a problem space to our technical solution.  While this approach doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, the trick here is to add design thinking to the mix. In those cases it’s important to really get inside the minds of users and set both the users and the product up for success.
 
User centric thinking or design thinking requires holistic thinking about your product or program. Fixing only a small part of the solution doesn’t necessarily solve a user’s need. It’s great to give users access to data or insights that they haven’t had before but if they can’t act on the information because they lack tools, infrastructure or resources, the user adoption will be low and your product is in jeopardy.
 
To avoid low user adoption, you will have to design what the users need. For this a holistic approach can be the answer. Finding out how people work with the tools, understand their limitations, and experience their pain points in their natural environment. We should be curious to find workarounds for some of their frustrations and limitations.
 

Walk a mile in someone’s shoes


On a recent project, in the space of "smart mobility", we interviewed a bunch of potential users to understand what their day to day job looked like. What kept them busy? What kept them from following through on proposals or ideas? How could they fit policy proposals into their employer’s objectives? What did their journey look like from policy proposal to signed law?
 
We not only listened to, but heard their pain points and frustrations. We tried to understand the implications of the limitations to the goals and tasks they had to perform. We asked them why this was a problem. We asked them why again and again. We needed to understand their frustration. We needed to walk a mile in their shoes.
 
These user interviews provided us situational awareness around their “mental model”. We wouldn’t have gotten this insight with just asking them what they needed or wanted. We needed to understand the problem before coming up with solutions.
 

Mapping it


We started mapping out and digitizing the mental model, acknowledging the tasks, goals and frustrations they had. But why was this important?
 
User-Journey-Small-(1).jpg
Personas and user journey in the smart mobility space

Mapping out their mental model (or user journey) allowed us to see their policy proposal journey as an overview on a giant schematic diagram. It revealed several things early in the discovery phase that would benefit the overall or holistic User Experience.
  1. It revealed gaps between the proposed customer experience and the one actually desired by the customer
  2. It revealed where to concentrate efforts and expenditure on what matters most to maximize effectiveness or impact
  3. It revealed the mindset, the working conditions and the frustrations of the users.

Successful innovation is dependent on a minimum of assumptions


Mapping out the user tasks, the mental model or journey map is a way to constantly innovate on ‘real’ user tasks.  It can replace hypothetical scenarios and assumptions with real world stories, creating a better base for feature prioritization and product or program decision making overall.
About the Author
Jeroen B.
Senior User Experience Designer
Jeroen has a background in Journalism and worked in the music industry for many years before finding his true calling. He practices human centered design by trying to understand the user’s pain points and by aligning those with the organization and program’s objectives. He has been a lead usability specialist, Information Architect,  UX designer and UX researcher for the past 17 years working on projects ranging from public education to travel to e-commerce.  He has been designing for IA and machine learning for the last 5 years and is currently the lead UX designer on a number of philanthropic initiatives at Vulcan.

Category Tags
Ideation
User Experience
About the Author
Jeroen B.
Senior User Experience Designer
Jeroen has a background in Journalism and worked in the music industry for many years before finding his true calling. He practices human centered design by trying to understand the user’s pain points and by aligning those with the organization and program’s objectives. He has been a lead usability specialist, Information Architect,  UX designer and UX researcher for the past 17 years working on projects ranging from public education to travel to e-commerce.  He has been designing for IA and machine learning for the last 5 years and is currently the lead UX designer on a number of philanthropic initiatives at Vulcan.

Category Tags
Ideation
User Experience
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