Using Design Thinking to Improve User Experience

As creatives evolve in their practices to provide ideal outcomes and user experiences, design thinking is an essential methodology wherein previously held beliefs about customer journey mapping can be reimagined. Namely, the act of deriving user persona’s from traits, rather than actions. Through ideating users in action and fields of action, better experiences can be crafted without the inherent flaws that arise when ideating persona’s from traits, rather than actions. For example, when a user is defined by an often subjective notion of how they behave, it excludes and does not account for the nuances of more inclusive user action categorization. Once you’ve identified a group of users, rather than break them down by specific persona’s, users can be segmented by fields of action in order to paint a more comprehensive picture of the experience journey which thereby provides better outcomes.  

They key to doing this is empathy, combined with a radical dismantling of the idea of the customer. Thinking of end users as clients and customers removes empathy from the design process and hardens experiences, making outcomes less likely to succeed. By re-imaging users as people, we can effectively empathize with them as end users, and create better products all around. In order to understand another human being’s point of view, it’s essential to immerse yourself in their feeling, appreciate them as human beings no matter how different their views may stray from your own, and lastly, remain objective in your judgements and thought processes about who they are as people, not customers. When the notion of crafting experiences for customers is replaced by one of crafting experiences for people, the story that’s communicated is profoundly more impactful.

Immersing yourself in the feelings of people in order to improve user experience can take a number of different forms, but the most effective way of beginning this process is to identify and engage with extreme users. Extreme users are groups of people who are hyper identified and smaller in number than mainstream users, but who, when outcomes are designed for, pay off in terms of inclusivity for the whole based on the needs of a few. For example, a workforce member who has heightened sensitivities to sound and light, that suffers from different nervous system disorders would be considered an extreme user of open offices. By designing an open office experience that is inclusive of this users extreme conditions, the design of the overall experience for all users becomes better. When the extreme needs of users are put into the forefront, it enables creatives and designers to emphasize with the person, rather than ideate for the customer. One radical way to accomplish this is through bodystorming.

Bodystorming allows designers to experience the more extreme situations of end users first hand. While bodystorming experiences take a vast amount of planning and execution, it enables designers to be as inclusive as possible by providing them with the ability to experience the world as an extreme user would through a simulation. In the case of the workforce member with heightened senses, one might wear a pair of headphones all day that randomly simulated noises at the 4-5 times the decibel a typical person would hear them at, as well as randomly turn on lights that were magnified in voltage for a defined period of time. Through this process, the empathy one feels for the end user is strengthened and the overall design is improved for a greater number of people.

Once the empathy space has been experienced, a challenge statement can be formed that centers on people, rather than customers. These challenge statements identify a problem and at the same time leave room for creative modifications, much like a well designed wireframe. From here we can begin to define users based on fields of action, rather than personality traits. In the previous example, when designing an open office experience, fields of action could be defined as office goers whose routine includes childcare, office goers who have disabilities, office goers that use alternate modes of transportation, and office goers who have pets. Another way to break down fields of action is by demographic information – for instance, office goers who were born in Gen X vs. Gen Y, who are in different pay ranges, or who have been in the workforce for a specific number of years can all be segmented as fields of action when designing a better open office experience. Exercises that create empathy for any given user in their respective field of action helps ensure that the end user experience is inclusive and applicable to the best number of positive outcomes.

While designing user journeys around people in an empathetic space is just the first step to crafting a better user experience, it’s the most crucial. Laying this strong foundation helps refine the processes that follow and allow creatives to design with direction and purpose and ultimately create end products that are helpful, meaningful and impactful. Whether it’s a change in culture, a value proposition, an inclusive experience, content strategy or digital design, applying design thinking methodology will strengthen not just the user outcomes, but the people tasked with designing them. Research from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risks Report confirms that increasingly, the best interest of the whole can be reached through inclusive thought and less exclusive approaches:  

“When members of a decision-making group are too homogeneous it can hamper their ability to recognize and react appropriately to risk. Among other things, too little diversity can heighten confirmation bias and make it more difficult for individuals to speak out about risks for fear of disrupting consensus.” –World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Risks Report

Empathy is the key to crafting meaningful engagement as well as impactful user experiences, and by applying design thinking methodologies to your processes, you can reach more users, solve more problems and create unique success for a larger group of end users.

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