Design 101; the User’s Perspective

In designing websites, buildings, business cards, kitchens, hospitals and pretty much everything else the user/visitor should be central in the decision making. In our current project to relaunch our corporate site we’ve named the visitor, and decision deadlocks are often broken by asking “What would Iris think?”

Paul Bennett from IDEO takes it further step, and discusses designers really going through the visitor experience.

He covers four broad themes in his talk.

1 A Binding Glimpse of the Bleeding Obvious

Sometimes the right idea is so staring you in the face that you miss it. In the case he gives showing hospital staff footage of the ceiling (as seen by a patient) gave the staff a better understanding of the patient’s experience than any amount of data or any fancy graphical representation would have done.

In our case seeing an analysis of the search terms actually used on our site told us that people visiting were looking for content that’s just not there, and (due to legal and organisational reasons) won’t ever be there. (We’ll solve this with an enterprise search engine, which can search across all company websites. We’re working on it, Shell’s already done it.)

2 Finding Yourself in The Margins

Notice the small things at the edge of the experience, these details make a difference. Look at how people subconsciously design their own experience.

This sort of thinking meant that his team noticed that nurses will often comfort a patient by holding their hand as they go through a diagnosis step – so a two-handed diagnosis-palm-pilot was not going to be a solution. They designed a less sexy device that can be used in one hand.

For us a random email set of a small but cool change. There is a glossary on our site, that covers technical financial terms, it’s good, but it’s probably not enough to help the consumer. A rewrite was already planned. And then I got an email, from someone who missed a term, suggested we add it. So our “Word of the Day” will include the possibility of suggesting a term,  suggesting a definition, and adding your email address so we can tell you when it’s added. It’s a tiny thing, and we’re not expecting a huge response, but it’s something on the margins that invites visitors to engage.

3 Having a Beginner’s Mind

Getting to new design solutions requires that you consciously start as if you know nothing; you need to unlearn.

His example is a project with IKEA, for children’s storage. It’s a cool solution from a kid’s perspective but probably not a solution from a parent’s perspective – and it’s not in the IKEA catalogue as far as I can tell.

Having a new person in our team has helped provide that fresh outside perspective.

4 Pick Battles Big Enough to Matter and Small Enough to Win

His example of this was a lightweight portable water pump, not very designer-y, but incredibly practical for the African communities it was designed for, and went on to get on to win design awards.

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