3 Ways User Experience Design Can Help Your Business
October 14th, 2018
Design thinking has been around for quite some time as a concept, but it’s only beginning to show its full potential as a tool for user experience research. Originating with the product design and engineering fields, design thinking is a powerful methodology for discerning unmet needs and generating value from those insights. In the user experience field, it has revolutionized the way we ask questions and identifies problems that demand innovative solutions. Here are a few ways this approach to research can benefit your business, regardless of industry:
1: Deliver products your customers actually want
Finding out what people want from products and services isn’t as easy as simply asking them. To put it bluntly, most of us don’t actually know what we want, especially when we’re asked about it in the abstract. Classic focus groups and surveys are good at identifying generalized feelings about existing products, but they struggle to capture deeper insights about what customers might want from hypothetical products. Every writer is familiar with the infamous cliche advising them to “show, don’t tell.” In a sense, design thinking applies the same adage to usability research. You can learn a lot more about what someone does or doesn’t like about a product by actually observing their usage habits over time. Simply asking them what they think about it isn’t enough because what you’re trying to get at is how the user experience makes them feel. It’s something they have to show rather than tell. Actually observing the user experience informs the design process because it helps you to ask the right questions.
To give an example of this, Samsung spent several years watching television sales decline despite offering the very latest in innovative features that customers said they wanted from a television. After conducting ethnographic user studies in 2005 that observed how people actually utilized their products in their homes, they discovered that consumers were far more driven by aesthetic concerns than technical ones. They viewed the television as a piece of furniture or decor rather than an entertainment device. Armed with this insight, Samsung’s engineers were able to radically reframe their approach to design, producing sleeker, more visually pleasing televisions without sacrificing the latest technological features. The change was a huge success, catapulting Samsung into its current position as an industry leader in the home television market.
Design thinking is a powerful methodology for discerning unmet needs and generating value from those insights
2: Develop better products with iterative testing
Very few companies would make the mistake of bringing a product to market without first testing it with potential customers. However, traditional approaches to product development often leave this important data gathering point until the very last moment, dropping a nearly “finished” product into someone’s hands only after months or even years of development. But a funny thing can happen in the journey from initial concept to final design. Without ongoing iterative feedback from potential users throughout the design process, you can easily wind up with a product nobody actually wants. Just as consumers don’t always know what they want, the reverse can hold true for designers who become myopically focused on their assumptions about what will succeed in the market. Provided the initial concept was sound, iterative testing can get a prototype product in someone’s hands as quickly as possible to provide immediate user experience feedback. Using this data, engineers can refine and adjust subsequent designs to provide a better experience. If this testing doesn’t happen until the product is nearly finished, the significant sunk costs of research and development can make it impossible to change course and compels companies to promote products they know are doomed to failure.
Take, for example, Nintendo’s disastrous Virtual Boy video game console. Released in 1995, the device suffered a series of setbacks throughout its development due to technological, cost, and legal limitations that reduced it to a clunky, inelegant product that consumers either didn’t understand or didn’t like. By the time potential consumers got their hands on it for testing, the company had already invested millions in development and gone so far as to build a new factory in China to produce the device. It was too late to make changes at that point; release dates and distribution deals were already set and advertising campaigns were in full swing. Nintendo felt it had no choice but to release a product doomed to fail. The results were predictable—poor sales caused the system to be discontinued within a year. Earlier interactive testing with potential consumers could have helped the company avoid the expensive disaster altogether.
3: Boost your own employees (humanizes the concepts)
One of the most valuable benefits of design thinking is also one of the least appreciated. Ongoing user experience research not only highlights existing problems and pain points, but it also humanizes them. Instead of simply looking at a list of survey results or form responses, the designers involved in the creative process are faced with the people most affected by their work. Because that direct experience makes it easier to empathize with them, designers aren’t just solving an abstract problem—they’re genuinely motivated to help them. Think about it: how invested would you be in making sure that a retail chain places its backpacks at the optimal height so customers can retrieve them if you’re simply given a chart detailing the reach of different buyer personas? In this context, you can understand why these details matter, but the problem itself is a matter of pure calculation of finding the ideal position. Now imagine having taken part in ethnographic shopping research to identify why people aren’t buying more backpacks. You see the grandmother who can’t navigate her cart down the cluttered aisle, the single mother who can’t reach the backpack her daughter wants or the student who can’t find the online coupon promising a discount on the backpack. When your team is solving problems, they’re going to be more motivated to find the best solutions when they can actually identify the people who are going to be helped by them. This humanization process is tremendously powerful and can keep your design teams engaged and energized as they work through the creative process together. Design thinking isn’t just another methodology to be plugged into your research process to churn out the same old results. Rather, it’s a way of looking at user experience in a way that generates unexpected insights and can shift your design process in directions you’d never have imagined at the onset. By adopting new ways of thinking and learning to see obstacles as an invitation to create better solutions, design thinking can revolutionize your user experience research and give your business the edge it needs to drive innovation and find success in the future