Code Blacks’ winning website built on empathy

Yes, the New Zealand ‘Code Blacks’ team has retained the trophy.

Full Code Press is a competition big on challenges:
Build a charity website from scratch in a mere 24 hours with a team you’ve barely met in a tiny room in the middle of a seething exhibition hall for a mystery client, with reporters and cameras hovering and under the sleep deprivation of an all-nighter…all this and against the formidable Australian team.

My challenge as UX lead: How to apply user centred design principles under all those constraints?

I figured we’d take some leads from competitor analysis, undertake regular guerrilla user research (reality checking our design with people from the audience) to make sure we were heading in the right direction with information architecture, copy and visual design, and even iron out any usability issues.

How wrong I was.

With the clock ticking and a team hungry for UX direction,  IA and page layouts needed to be locked down within hours of kick-off. Time pressure ruled out the chance to validate our designs, so without any real user research we were left to fly seat-of-pants applying best practice.

I often turn down ‘expert review’ work when it’s clear a user centred approach is required, so this really tested my principles. It felt a little like being on a DIY home makeover show, where corners are cut and the clients end up with a half-arsed job they will have to re-do as soon as the cameras stop rolling.

But our clients from Rainbow Youth were different… They understood their audience.

Our clients shared theirs and others personal anecdotes inspiring empathy amongst our team, providing first hand audience insights, giving us the confidence to charge forward with a clear picture of their goals from using the site and the values to be conveyed through the user experience.

Picking ‘randoms’ from the audience to give feedback on our design may have worked on a high level, but empathy for and understanding of the end user put us in a great position to cater for user needs while achieving the support and fundraising goals of the charity.

It’s amazing what is possible in such a compressed timeframe when you have direct access to a client who themselves are user advocates.

I look forward to comparing notes with Patrick from the Australian team to get his take on UX under pressure.

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