Imagine a solution that supports your work so that you can get it right the first time. And imagine a solution that makes your work as easy and as efficient as possible. Sounds good? The key to software that works like a dream is user centric software development.
“We can achieve better results when we ideate, plan and solve problems together. Collaboration can produce some surprising solutions to problems.”
And right there, in solving the users' problems, is the core of this software project.
Empathy plays a key role
A deep dive into the world of the user
For user research we always visit the users’ workplace; interview them in an authentic environment and observe their work routines.
“Our aim is to keep research situations very informal and relaxed. Discussion is central to getting as much information from users as possible,” Minka says, and adds that knowing the users’ world and having deep insight into their work is at the heart of user-centric software design.
"Without this understanding, a UX designer won’t be able to do their job well."
Who then, is involved in user research? “We want to meet very different users. It doesn't matter if you are a seasoned professional or just starting your career,” Minka says.
She gives an example of a web-based network information solution that is currently being developed: “The research has involved users from both our customers and their contractors. We have involved as many roles and companies as possible.”
All user experience is valuable, but a UX Designer learns the most about situations that cause the users problems.
“Those are the situations where we can try to understand more deeply what is difficult and why and how things could be done better in the future,” Minka explains.
The questions become answers
The walls of the project room are lined with flyers and post-its that visualize information. There are wireframes, images, colors, outlines of the user personas, their needs and their pain points. In another kind of project, this type of information could easily be kept in the project team members’ own files and folders.
The workshop begins with discussion. The Product Manager, Software Developers, and UX designer have been involved in the project from the beginning and contemplate on how to create the best possible user experience. For example, if a user is viewing several different pipeline networks simultaneously, the pipelines can’t all be called just pipes. Or how does the user get an easy and clear view when there are multiple network objects. And since they are designing a web-based solution, also field work comes up in discussions. For instance, double-clicking is more difficult on the touch screen in the field than with a mouse in the office.
Fail fast approach
The key to a user centric design project is to get feedback from the user in as early a stage as possible. The first prototypes given to users for testing can be paper wireframes or clickable interactive prototypes.
“As the project progresses, things get a bit faster as some of the design implementation is ready and we can prototype in the test environment,” Minka explains.
What is noteworthy in this project is that, in the beginning, there are no answers to all the questions. Although we can, for instance, define interoperability, accessibility and usability as requirements for the software, the specific user needs and requirements can only be identified by asking the users. Early prototypes and user testing throughout the project quickly reveal design and implementation issues, and solutions are beginning to emerge.
The ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, listening skills and a hint of curiosity go a long way in user centric product development that aims at delving deep into user's mind.