After having done a Human Computer Interaction course with Stanford University online over several weeks through Coursera, I really found their need finding phase of the course insightful. On this blog post I share how we went about exploring user needs in our surroundings and my thoughts and improvements around the course.
The need finding was broken up into three steps.
1. Observe how people do things
By watching people we tend to learn their goals and values and come up with design insight which uncovers user needs, breakdowns, clever hacks and opportunities for improvement. This is how entrepreneurs go about finding new opportunities and business ideas. For User Experience designers, you want to observe people performing a particular taks in the actual environment. During observation, either take notes, video record or take pictures (after gaining permission, of course) to document the activity.
2. Brainstorming user needs
This part focuses in on using the notes/findings from the previous step, to brainstorm a list of specific user needs; opportunities for design innovation that would enable better support to an activity. We were encouraged to list as many ideas as possible and to include as many relevant people as possible to help. All ideas are good ones and the aim was to generate at least 15 plus. At this stage, we were not looking for solutions yet just user needs and goals.
3. Find inspired solutions
Designers can draw inspirations from existing applications, artifacts, products or services that relate to a users need. For the Standford course we were encouraged to search on useful sites such as Google, Google Scholar, ACM digital library, TechCrunch etc. These insights can then be fleshed out with storyboards and a rapid prototype.
My own take
And that was our first assignment. This is not entirely different from how most UX designers go about designing engaging experiences. I would have included the creation of personas to be specific about the list of user needs from observations. Its important to realize that there could many different users who will use your system to achieve different goals and tasks. Personas help clarify who your users are, their specific needs, context limitations and the scope your solution will cover. It is then much easier to come up with solutions.
Participatory design with your intended users helps inform design solutions that are relevant and consistent with the needs and goals of the user. Users can think up ideas a normal designer would never come up with because the designer’s experience with a user’s context is limited. One way to get around this would be to role play as a user and perform the tasks in the actual environment. So complimenting observation, with role play and an interview session/focus group could go a long way to informing the direction of the project.
Please share your thoughts on need finding in your various spheres and how you would go about it.