Category Archives: Empathy

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.

Kiwi teacher’s User Centered Design approach wins over students (and Microsoft)

A geography teacher from an Auckland school is hailed as the ‘most innovative teacher in the world’. Delivering lessons via students mobile phones.

Nathan’s approach:

  • Understanding his audience
  • Observing their behavior
  • Building empathy with their needs
  • Harnessing their input

…and ultimately innovating learner experiences in an education system stymied by tradition.

Here are some cues from the article as to how a User Centered Design approach helped him reach this great outcome:

“No matter how much technology advances, high-quality teaching will always be linked to having a good relationship with students”

‘learning through information technology and student involvement. Students helped – by telling him what they felt was most appropriate or interesting’

There’s a video on MSN charged with Nathans enthusiasm for the way he’s been able to respond to the needs and behaviours of the students, by the power of observation.

He says the students who inspired the new method have embraced the technology and experience.
Pass rates have risen from 50-60% up to 80-90%.  Hard to argue with that sort of result.

Those who adapt, survive.

When it comes to adapting, we Kiwis are experts.

Our ‘Number 8 wire’ attitude sees us modify, improve and invent products out of necessity, or just to ‘make do’. This Wellington cyclist shows Kiwis are not afraid of some prototyping to find a solution, and stay safe on the road.

Businesses wanting to survive in times of change can learn from how people behave and adapt to and interact with their environment.

  • Which coping strategies do people employ when a product is not up to the job intended?
  • How could the product be improved to provide a more rewarding experience for the user?
  • Do customer’s habits reveal a latent need for a new product to serve emerging behaviours?

Observing customer behaviour in the context of use, getting out there amongst your customers, building empathy with their needs and watching for these habits is an insightful way to answer these questions   …and a core user research technique.

…but if you are  a bicycle accessories company, this may find you hanging out behind the bike shed after dark. …hmm.

Grass roots customer research. The visitors book

Ok, it’s an occupational hazzard, but from a curious browse through the guestbook at a Bed and Breakfast there were some pretty clear patterns emerging.

From years worth of entries a clear picture emerged of the type, nationality and values of the guests , plus some insight into what they think are the most (and in some cases least) memorable attributes of the experience. (a complimentary bottle of wine on arrival is a big hit)

This was a pro-active B&B owner who understood and served his guests well, but customer facing staff in larger organisations are confronted by valuable user feedback on an hourly basis and are seldomly in a position to analyse and convert this feedback into improvements in customer experience, let alone to measure changing attitudes and expectations over time.

In this case, it’s a humble visitors book, and more than likely the quality of feedback is biased towards the positive but this is a great example of how some basic research at the front lines of a business or service can help shape a proposition to best meet customer needs. …or perhaps exceed them by leaving a chocolate on the pillow.