This guide will help you think about design, content and development.
Empathy is the process of immersing yourself in the end user's problems. Putting your feet in someone else's shoes. As researchers, we can observe users in their environment and capture insights that wouldn't normally be captured. The core idea is that we must be able to observe the user in a given environment. If done effectively, we can create new designs based off of what we found. How close you can get to a user will depend on the work you are doing and getting permission to do so.
Start by asking the right questions. A common technique is asking 'why' five times. You will eventually find your way to the route problem by digging deeper. It is important to be honest about the problem and rigorous about learning the missing details. We don't want to land on assumptions; we want to find real data. If you make an assumption, make sure you test it. Vital to gathering user needs the difference between knowing what your users need vs. what you need to do for your users. You need to be able to measure your success and improve on met needs in the future.
Provide real evidence of a need. You can do this by using existing data, the voice of the customer or subject matter experts. Make sure you reflect what the user is trying to do and not describing what you think they need. Qualitative research can be helpful for supporting your data and quantitative research.
User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave - and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process.
~ Jesse James Garrett
There are several common ways to understand how a design will impact a user. Applying methods like interviewing, creating personas, or card sorting allow you to collect feedback and data to inform design decisions. Try looking for repeated task, missed opportunities, pain points or other outstanding patterns. Knowing what to look for is not only important but also knowing when to apply a specific research method is a good skill to have.
Once we understand the system, we can begin to think about solutions to the problem. The goal is to learn early and often so that we can inform designs before it is too late. You increase your chances of finding an innovative solution by getting closer to your users.
Conceptual modeling and storyboarding are tools for extracting abstract mental models. They are typically a sketch or drawing that serves as a template or scaffold to organize and structure your knowledge of a system. Simply put, they are high level mappings of your ideas or perspectives. They help the designer to validate thier unique perspective and allow the team to be on the same page. The models should be used as a map to guide the team in the right direction.
Rapid prototyping is where the core designing happens. They are a blueprint used to build the final product. You build the system through a quick and iterative approach. This allows the designer to make their ideas tangible and validate how well they work before they are built. You should visualize an idea, test it and refine it. Wash, rinse, repeat…
Prototyping can happen anywhere between low and high fidelity. Low being a rough, static and simple paper sketch. High being a fully interactive and stylized design that uses real content and acts like the final product. Prototypes allows the designer to fail early and often and the team can benefit from experimenting with ideas. Finally, the prototype should be used to elicit conversation and ensure that everyone is on the same page and has a common understanding. Skills in facilitation and group dynamics make this process much easier.
Once you have a prototype, you can put it in front of users and begin learning from their reactions to it. Testing is best done through limiting scope and giving users a single task to do at a time. You can create screeners to find the users you want and create scripts for users to follow and walk through the system. Be clear, complete and concise with tasks and try not to interact with users during the test so that their decisions won't be influenced. Test can be done in person or online using testing tools like usertesting.com.
User observations will help you determine how well your design works. Users can point out what is and isn't working. Use the feedback gathered to revise your prototype and increase usability. You should repeat testing as you build out the prototype until the end of the design process.