3 tips for better user-centred design

In order to design a useful product we need to understand our users and prioritize their needs. At ASL19, we’re familiar with creating products for users with vastly different lives and experiences than our own. We use ethnographic research, data, and user feedback to better understand who we’re designing for, but making a truly user-centric product requires a shift in thinking. Here are three quick tips for designing user-centric products.

See through your user’s eyes

When I look back at my past user personas, I notice many of them don’t actually say much about the user despite being meticulously designed. These personas had names, photos, personality types, and preferred brand names, but didn’t open up discussion on how or why the user would want to use a product. My error was viewing a user as a list of characteristics, rather than as a complex person with hopes and fears.

To create more relatable and realistic personas, we start by defining their physical environment, cultural context, and technological limitations. This is the groundwork for the types of users we want to test our designs with, and gives insight on life through the user’s eyes.

Include the rest of your team

User empathy doesn’t start and end at design. Solitary, siloed design is ineffective and narrows the perspective of a product immensely. Users, writers, researchers, product managers, and developers should be involved throughout the process.

We define project needs with an assumptions workshop. In these brainstorming sessions each participant states what they assume are the users’ needs, and what the product should accomplish. These workshops encourage every contributor to share their opinion and expertise, which can boost the team’s collective knowledge. Additionally, early collaboration gives every team member a chance to express their thoughts on user challenges and goals, which encourages empathy as a foundational value for the project.

Focus on outcomes not outputs

When determining project completion, it’s important to consider what makes a product successful rather than what features are needed to launch. How does the product help its users meet their goals? Does it address existing frustrations? If a complex e-commerce site is designed beautifully and is delivered on time but fails to make any sales, it hasn’t produced a desirable outcome. To shift the conversation away from outputs or features, we focus on what a successful product accomplishes for our users and us.

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To do this we start by creating a chart that aligns user goals with business goals and plan for features that can accomplish both. For example, if we want to introduce a new service to users that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology, and the goal of the product is to retain new users, an onboarding process can potentially lower user drop off.

A deep understanding of user needs and their existing mental model is necessary when creating user-centered designs. Shifting from traditional business practices and fostering a user-first mindset can vastly improve product usability by making empathy central to the design and development process.

By: Sonia Tong, UX/UI Designer at ASL19