“A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.”
– Don Norman, “The Design of Everyday Things”
In a lot of ways, UX professionals play the role of detective. Before we begin studying users in their own environment or creating wireframes, we need to understand the problem to be solved. Our user-centered designs need to provide a positive and engaging experience for our users. However, we must also assist our customers in meeting their business goals to truly succeed. If our customers aren’t meeting their business goals, there is a problem.
UX Designers are first and foremost problem solvers. Before we talk to our first user or sketch our first wireframe, we start with understanding the problem and creating a research plan. Although there are a number of ways to approach this, we generally follow these basic steps:
- Meet With Stakeholders
- Create Goals
- Identify Risks
- Create Proto-Personas
Meet With Stakeholders
When a business problem is uncovered, what usually bubbles up to stakeholder level discussions are symptoms of the problem and how it keeps them from reaching business goals. The source of the problem is rarely known during these discussions.
In design-aware companies, UX Designers are brought in to the discussion with stakeholders right away. They ask questions to understand their customers’ needs and listen for clues to discover how to solve the source of the problem.
After meeting with stakeholders, the team responsible for solving the problem will create a list of project goals. These goals will be based on resolving the business problems uncovered during stakeholder discussions but should not include a solution. You’re not solving the problem at this point. Goals keep your team from going down rabbit holes and help you stay on target. Keep the goals in a central place where the team can refer to them throughout the project.
There are always risks when solving problems. The more innovative the solution, the more risks will surface. It’s always a good idea for the team to discuss and brainstorm potential risks that could be encountered during the project or after the rollout of the solution.
Example: The user could create a work-around, and the customer will not get the data they need.
Before creating your proto-personas, make sure you identify your primary users along with those that affect your primary users’ daily work.
Identify user types:
- Primary Users: People who rely on a product to complete their work on a daily basis
- Secondary Users: People who use the product once in a while and influence primary users (managers, administrators, etc.)
- Persons of Interest: People who do not use the product, but their process affects the process and priorities of your user (other departments who rely on the output of the user)
Once you identify your user types, the team creates a proto-persona for each one. A proto-persona is the first step in creating a final, validated persona and contains the same data: user image and name, demographics, needs and goals, and behavior and activities. The team will then fill in each section with their assumptions.
This is a great activity for the team to get all their assumptions about the users out into the open. This helps foster conversations to get the team on the same page and uncovers areas that are unclear. This step is valuable when creating questions for user research.
These steps will help you understand the data you need to get from your user research, craft the right questions, and create discussion guides to keep your team on task.
Focus your questions on:
- Discovering the source of the business problem from your meeting with stakeholders
- Achieving your project goals to keep the team from going down rabbit holes
- Learning how to mitigate the risks identified during your brainstorm session
- Verifying the assumptions on the proto-personas and learning about the areas that are unclear
The insights you get from user research are only as good as the questions you ask. Make sure you’re crafting open-ended questions that eliminate bias, encourage your users to talk about their experiences, and create opportunities to observe how they work.
As UX professionals, it is our responsibility to keep the user at the center of our strategy and design decisions. At the same time, we can’t forget to maintain balance with our customers’ business goals. The research plan allows us to be better prepared to solve our customers’ challenges and help them succeed. As we say, “Put your UX detective hats on, and let’s solve this thing!”
By Cindy Meier, Principal, User Experience, and Jordan Kimura, Professional, UX Design