Without everyone experiencing and understanding the results of evidence-based, user-centred design, UX just becomes another commodity, another collection of services and outputs with little value.
UX is a process, not an output. It’s a process that has to be done collaboratively and continually if you want a website, app or other digital platform to continue to thrive. This is challenging.
I believe it means that UXer’s need to become effective coaches and mentors so that UX skills can be nurtured and maintained. Our clients and agencies need to dedicate time and money to ensure their staff develop the skills needed to properly participate in and measure their digital projects.
This means planners, project managers and account managers, client-side and agency-side, have to take UX more seriously.
This all sounds great but how do we put this into practice? How do we inspire our clients to take UX seriously?
Becky - You are an experienced UXer and mentor. How do you get clients to participate more in the digital process and what’s the outcome? How could it be improved?
Sharon - You run the excellent Pub School. How do you create a nurturing environment? What is essential when creating a place to collaborate?
Although we deliberately set out to create a group learning programme, we’ve been surprised and delighted by the results that collaboration between group members brings. People learn way more and make faster progress when they’re doing it together in a group compared to say, doing an online course on their own.
In terms of how we make it happen, I think there’s an element of self-selection involved. We talk a lot about the benefits of group working in our marketing, and the people who’ve been on the course talk about it too, so I don’t think anyone would sign up for Pub School if they weren’t open-minded about sharing their ideas and supporting others – two key drivers for collaborative success.
I think the fact we’re in a pub, rather than in our office or a more corporate space, makes for a good collaborative atmosphere.
It’s a level, neutral playing field, and the fact it’s a place people associate with good times helps. The roaring log fire, flowers on the table, coffee, cake and amazing hospitality of Fiona – the pub landlady – make people feel looked after and relaxed. Both of those qualities help people to think creatively, and talk comfortably. Again, both of those things make collaboration easier.
We build a lot of time into the course for people to talk and share ideas. Exercises are designed so that people can compare experiences and thoughts, and as many important connections and ‘light-bulb moments’ are made during this time, as are during the time we’re ‘teaching.’
The group is deliberately small. Small enough to sit around one long table in our local pub. (I think this matters – any bigger and it would be more difficult to foster the feeling of all being in together. Eye contact and real listening help.)
Basecamp is the useful and user-friendly online tool which we use to stay in touch between sessions. It goes without saying that good communication matters in any collaborative project. When people are only meeting every couple of weeks it’s good to make them feel anchored to a process so they don’t drift off. We’re clear on the journey we’re taking people on – signposting where we’ve been, where we are now, and what’s coming next.
So if I was to pull together a checklist for effective collaboration from this, I’d say.
As specialists in recruiting participants for UX research and usability testing my experience is that user recruitment is often the last piece of the puzzle in UX and design, and often it is the part that is cut if budgets won’t stretch. Overall, not enough time and resource are allocated to this part and although there are different reasons for this in each instance, I think it boils down to one of the three following reasons: user recruitment is considered to be easy, it is considered to be less important, or there is a lack of knowledge as to how recruitment actually works, especially good recruitment.
Good recruitment should be something that helps to add value to the UX process, and there are definitely elements of the recruitment process that can be collaborative.
We provide each client with detailed profiles of each participant who is recruited, some of our clients use these to create test plans that are tailored to the experience of each participant. This can be especially useful when working with Government teams whose users can be potentially anybody, each user experience can be dramatically different. For example, someone who has been through a court case, on paper there are only 2 outcomes: win or lose. However, in reality, the experience people go through is much more nuanced.
It is also important to note the value of an engaged participant who isn’t taking part solely for the financial incentive. It is a joy to get feedback from a client following a research session with a user who will benefit from the changes a digital team might make to their experience. Clients can help with participant engagement by sharing more outcomes, this sends a powerful message about the contribution people can make by taking part in a user research session.
We also work collaboratively to finalise the recruitment brief and create recruitment screeners and run workshops with clients to share our knowledge and promote user-centred research, not just user centred design.
These aren’t presentations where we come along for the ‘ta-da’ moment and show the work we have done. These are interactive sessions where we problem-solve with our clients. For example, we hold a Discovery session at the beginning of every project, where we work with our client to unearth all the intricacies of the problem we are solving. We run information architecture workshops with our clients, where, on screen and on paper, we build the sitemap together. We do user story workshops, where we give our clients paper templates and help them to download and process this information into something meaningful to us all.
Both Jess and Sharon have hit the nail on the head when they cite collaboration as absolutely key. For me, it’s the same with UX process. Historically, and still the case for many, the digital team are seen as the people who do the work. Often it’s a case of “right, you’ve got the brief, now off you go and come back with something that amazes me”. However, the way it works best is when the client becomes part of the digital team and openly and actively collaborates on the work at hand. This is where the shift from do-er to mentor is key for a UXer like me. The business knowledges lies with the client – it’s their baby and it’s their expertise – and it’s our skills that should facilitate the creation of solutions, not just go away and do them.
The client should become part of the digital team, not the boss cracking the whip, expecting us to come up with the goods.
Sharon’s right that wonderful things happen when people collaborate – you get so much more with the client in the room than you would with just the digital team putting their heads together. It’s really important to move away from digital jargon and processes that alienate clients, and by working so closely together, not only are we all forced to make this more human, but the client directly experiences methodology that heightens their respect for the process (and us).
As a result of them being more actively involved, they have far more ownership during the project and the end result. They are more engaged and responsible. The project is inclusive and they feel like a valued member of the team. (This makes the end result better too).
Openness and trust are key. Our clients have to trust that we know what we’re doing, as well as trust that we will look after them. Equally, they must be prepared to be open – we can’t help them, and the process won’t work if they can’t share with us and amongst each other. The best workshops we’ve had are where the participants range from the MD to those on the ground, and everyone’s opinion is worthy and listened to.
There are a few things that we think could improve our process with clients: