We have a beta user, a doctor, who’s at the top of his field globally. He’s ever busy, running from teaching undergraduates to performing medical procedures to hopping on flights to present at conferences. So we’re lucky if we get even 15 minutes, once in a while with him, to glean some insights into the product he’s helping us design.
But those 15-minute blocks are gold.
In one such session we discovered, via a throwaway comment, that he was colour blind. In fact about 10% of users in his field are colour blind. This was a significant discovery! We were glad we were persistent and made umpteen requests for interactions!
Long story short…we incorporated this important finding back into the product by designing a colour-blind alternative palette for our screens.
Users are often fickle. They’re prima donnas. They’re fussy and short tempered and parsimonious with their time and insights. But they have real problems with technology – they get frustrated with bad onboarding flows, settings changes that just don’t work, confusing buttons and messages or help systems that don’t help.
Over the past few decades, billions of dollars have been poured into creating systems that humans must struggle to work with. As researchers and designers, it is our prime duty to right this. Why must people learn machine languages and flows? Why must users adapt to the diktats of computerese? The art (and science) of HCI attempts to right that by designing systems that work with, and for, humans.
My colleague Chitra Gurjar has adeptly narrated what it takes to perform impactful user research. She spoke of the virtues of curiosity in her first blog, and of the necessity of sustaining a spirit of inquiry in the second one. In this piece, I’d like to close this user research essentials set by talking about patient persistence.
When we embarked on the aforementioned project with our colour-blind super-specialist clinician, it was overwhelming to say the least. The field of research and design was so far out of our comfort zone it took us months to get into novice mode. Here we are, three years down the line, still at novice+ level perhaps, but we know our users well. We also learnt:
- After observing them performing several life-saving procedures using the software we designed, we’ve noticed how colours that may seem bright and garish in a ‘cool’ SaaS or e-commerce platform are vital to help our users make split-second decisions. Lesson #1: What’s good for the goose is never good for the gander.
- In one memorable meeting, one of the beta users – another doctor – asked – “What about my viewer??” We were about 6 months into design at this point. After a POC and a small release, as we demoed the mocks of a larger release, he articulated the need for a particular viewer – everyone from the clinical team had assumed we knew about this important viewer all along. Phew! Lesson #2: Keep talking to your users, and talking and talking…
- We designed a beautiful and pathbreaking (we thought) UI artefact with our beta users’ inputs and guidance – so pathbreaking that the customer filed patents for it. But other doctors on the field hated it. It wasn’t familiar. They wanted a familiar, no-brainer artefact that they could use without a second thought. They didn’t want the curve associated with having to learn any shiny new ‘patented’ gizmo. This ruthless prioritisation of their time helps them focus on job #1 – curing patients. Don’t discard the old just because. This was a hard lesson learned, after repeated field trials and interviews with users. Lesson #3: Oftentimes, the user may just want small tweaks. Not an overhaul of everything, kitchen sink and all.
What we’ve realised through this effort, and many others like it, is that impactful design hinges upon literally becoming a fly on the wall of your users. Observe, don’t speak. Speak, don’t preach. Ask, don’t assume. Iterate, don’t freeze. Learn, learn, learn.
Patient persistence, indeed, is the name of the game when it comes to user research. Beyond the 5Ws within a session, it’s a matter of going back to them again and again. After all, the goal of user research is to come up with insights that help build products or services that lead to better user outcomes.
Better user outcomes, we all agree, make for better business outcomes.