I’ve had to take a big swig of my own medicine. It tasted awful.
Here, I’ll share the embarrassing but enlightening story, and the 5 lessons I’ve learned.
Does UX research attract more women than men?
I sometimes refer to the various roles within UX as running along a spectrum from research at one end to design at the other. It might be more convenient than realistic, but I’ve found it’s a pretty solid metaphor when asking colleagues where along the spectrum their deep skill-set lies or where they have the most fun.
…but I’d never considered each end of the spectrum might attract a different gender.
In fact, after moving from earlier careers of men and machines, I’ve enjoyed working in what’s seemed like a gender-balanced environment of UX / user centred design. I’ve even spoken out before on this when I’ve felt things weren’t quite representative.
So last month when speaking about visualising design research to audiences in New York and San Francisco I was surprised to notice men were significantly out-numbered by women.
In one talk there was only one man in an audience of dozens,
Another talk, only two men.
This made me wonder… was this representative of the profession?
This job ad for a design researcher at an agency in Minneapolis seems to suggest so…
In this ‘People understanding company’ in Europe, women outnumber men two to one.
… and a LinkedIn search seems to think so too:
A search for ‘design researcher’ in the SF Bay Area returns 26 women and 4 men in the first 30 results.
So, if there is a pattern like the rudimentary graph above…
- Why is this?
- What is it about the profession, that attracts more women than men?
- Is it that women are somehow suited to design research? Why is that?
- Has it always been this way, or is it changing?
- What does it say about the other end of the spectrum?
And – on a professionally embarrassing note – how did I miss such a fundamental demographic trend in my own industry, given that spotting patterns in people is a core part of my work?
Perhaps some of you lovely men AND women readers can answer some of these curly questions?
I’m off to New York with Better by Design, for a fresh take on being customer centred – shifting focus to a different type of customer…
The customer of design.
Prevalent models like Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Jobs To Be Done etc. all stress a primary need to understand the end user of the product. In fact, it’s hard to find a contemporary ’best practice’ example of design or product development which doesn’t include ‘getting out of the building’, ‘walking in their shoes’ or having ‘empathy’.
…But there’s little thought given to the customer of user centred design – the business decision-maker considering investing in the often unquantifiable value this approach will bring, and wanting assurance they’re doing the right thing by leading their team down this path.
Who’s walking in their shoes?
Where’s the empathy for them?
Being a coach with Better by Design certainly takes this direction, and joining 25 Kiwi CEOs on a tour of NY businesses offers a great opportunity to take a taste of my own medicine by getting closer to my own customers.
The businesses we’ll visit have all been built on or have adopted a customer centred approach, from mainstays like Ideo & Google, to more ‘recent’ arrivals IBM (who’ve hired hundreds of designers in the last year) and a bunch of more ‘Kiwi sized’ product and service companies.
At each business we’ll get a taste for their approach and hear how they believe they’ve applied it in their business, through staff culture, product attributes or the way they decide ‘what next?’.
Yes, a great set of case studies to learn from, but my interest lies in the response of the curious but yet-to-be-convinced CEO or Product Manager who’s perhaps too close to their product or has lost connection with their customers’ world.
What does a user centred approach look like to them?
I’ll be looking to see what resonates, what scares them, what raises eyebrows, or triggers an inhale through the teeth.
Plenty to learn, and as with all customer insights work, the answers to these questions lie beneath the surface and between the lines. So if you’re in New York in Late October, that’s where you’ll find me.
The UK government has built a serious design team, with a bias towards user research and a user centred approach.
All signs (Read below) are that our government is taking the same course. This will mean exciting things for the UX design community in New Zealand not if, but when we follow suit…
I’ve just returned from London, working with Government Digital Service, a massive team of researchers, strategists, designers, developers and general smarties with a lofty remit.
- “To ensure the Government offers world-class digital products that meet people’s needs”
- “The quality and user centricity of major commercial internet properties should be our minimum goal”
- “Our aim is to be the unequivocal owner of high quality user experience between people and government”
They’ve literally put the user at the centre of their process, and adopted user research as a core design tool.
Their approach has been boiled down into a beautifully succinct ‘service manual’ which has become required reading for UX people, particularly in the digital field.
Throughout the approach is a strong bias towards user research, with 25 researchers on the team (and growing), tackling every type and method of research I’ve heard of and the ultra broad spectrum of users which is… the UK public, and every way in which they interact with goernment.
This quote from their website demonstrates how committed they are to basing their design work on user research and the needs of their customers:
- “People come to GOV.UK with specific needs. Anything that gets between our users and meeting those needs should be stripped away”
To achieve this standard, they’ve set 26 Criteria, of which the first is below:
Their work extends way beyond digital into service design and interactions in the built environment, as it should.
So to what degree is this happening in NZ?
Last month an initiative from the DIA came onto my radar…
It’s called Transforming the System of Service Delivery and lays out the same goals and principles as a way to redesign the way services are delivered to Kiwis.
- “DIA will put the customer at the centre of everything we do “
- “Designing and delivering our products and services around how New Zealanders live their lives: we will develop a deep understanding of what our customers want and need, and work collaboratively to put customers at the centre”
Here’s an illustration of their customer’s world:
I know IRD and the MOJ have some internal capability but when a wide reaching project like this kicks off, our telcos, banks and digital agencies will have to fight even harder for the best UX talent from the tiny pool here in NZ.
and now look what’s been floated by the director of the Design Museum … a Minister for Design.
A couple of years ago I visited the Eames’ ‘case study house’ and thought I had entered design nirvana.
…Well, it did have a great swing:
Next week I’m heading back to California, this time on a journey into the home of ‘design thinking’
Check out the highlights of the schedule…
I’m heading there with 25 CEOs of Kiwi export companies in the Government-backed Better By Design programme.
Along with a dozen others, I’m playing the role of ‘design integration coach’, helping promising NZ companies to integrate design into their business.
The principles behind the programme borrow a lot from the ‘design thinking’ school of thought popularised by IDEO, and more recently Stanford D.School. Both of which we’ll be visiting.
I’ve always been dubious of ‘design with a capital D’…
In fact, I tweeted not long ago:
“Is design thinking to design what cookbooks are to celebrity chefs?”
I’d love design thinking to be more than just a tarted-up version of taking a user-centred approach to design, beginning with end user insights.
This trip will either fully convert me, or leave me wondering whether it’s another wardrobe for the emperor.
I’ll let you know how it goes…
When there’s no time, money or buy-in for a ‘full noise’ project I’ve been running a 2 day process where I put my clients in the research seat as they work together to make their own observations, draw their own conclusions and insights.
It felt risky and compromised at first, but it’s working out well so far.
(Once the objectives and scope are nailed down)
- I invite stakeholders to attend and observe interviews with customers.
- I set the stakeholders up to take notes.
- Then facilitate interviews with paid participants.
- Between sessions we gasp for breath and I draw out the top-of-mind observations from each stakeholder.
- After the last session, I guide them through a hands-on exercise where they match and group individual observations into themes.
- Together we agree on what these mean for the design/business and prioritise them into an action list.
This is a collaborative, intense and compressed way to work but has massive value to the client. … even if you are exhausted at the end of it.
Some things I’ve learned from working this way:
Critically, this requires time investment and commitment from the stakeholder team – be crystal clear from the start that this is totally a ‘get out what you put in’ scenario. Participation is required if the client is going to see value.
It’s best to have a mix of stakeholders involved, different parts of the business, levels of seniority, familiarity with the product, market etc.
I can’t imagine doing it justice with less than 3 stakeholders.
Try to make this an off-site activity to minimise distractions.
Make sure food for them and you is arranged in advance. The sessions will be almost back to back so there will be no skipping off to lunch.
Recruitment – You should consider all-day ‘standby’ participants in case of a ‘no-show’.
Stakeholders need a strong briefing around observation. Reinforce that it’s a team effort, several stakeholders observing the same behaviour can take different meaning away – It’s all valuable.
Keep note taking physical and portable (paper / sticky notes).
Don’t be precious about format, it’s most important that notes are actually taken, not how.
Suggest notes are written from the customer’s point of view. This helps the stakeholder to think through what they are writing, and these ‘quotes’ really come to life during the analysis.
For a usability type project, you could have a sheet of paper for each participant with columns; Where, What and How – Where was the customer at, What did they say/do, How does it impact their experience.
Pinning the objectives up on the wall can remind observers what they are looking for.
Start a ‘discuss’ list and encourage observers to add items as they come up rather than talk through the session.
You need 5-10 mins between each session to conclude what was learned, what was confirmed etc. Asking each stakeholder to write down them share their ‘Top 5’ observations works well.
AFTER THE FINAL SESSION:
Aim for a 2 hour analysis and wrap-up.
Collate all the notes and get them up on walls, grouped by customer, topic etc.
Have everyone spend time (10-15 mins) scanning the data and writing down what they feel are key observations. Go for quantity. 100 is a good start.
Go for some sort of ‘KJ’ collaborative analysis to group individual observations into themes. Name each theme and what it means for the product and customer.
Roll this into a prioritisation exercise by ranking / voting, plotting on a scale etc.
OUTCOMES FOR THE CLIENT:
Making decisions based on first hand observations is a powerful experience.
Getting answers in hours to questions which have been hovering for weeks is a liberating feeling for clients.
Clients arrive at conclusions and reach consensus and create the output together.
This approach can also show the client it’s something they can do themselves.
… and of course, questions emerge which they didn’t know they needed to answer.
Suddenly… where time, budget and buy in for customer research was lacking… it miraculously appears!
I was nudged over the fence into taking this approach by Dana Chisnell, so thanks Dana for the nudge!
I’d love to hear other people’s experience with this…
In another blog post I’ll tell you how it goes when you send the stakeholders out into the field to do their own research.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the R&D programme for a ground-breaking medical device to help diabetics manage their insulin treatment.
Part of the project was to reach a regulatory milestone, which has now been achieved.
To reach this milestone we tested the usability of the device to prove it was intuitive and the design prevented people from giving themselves a mis-dose or even fatal dose of insulin.
It was amazing to work in this ‘high-stakes’ context with so many facets to the user experience:
- an ‘out of box’ experience with crucial set-up to match the device to the user’s insulin sensitivity
- a physical product which is injected with insulin and attached to the body
- a touch screen device presents a learning curve for diabetics in their 70’s
- online monitoring and visualisation of blood glucose levels – data presented in new ways
- …and the big one… people’s health and lifestyle literally in their hands and plugged into their bellies.
Aside from having my eyes opened to the world of diabetes and being humbled by the courage of the people I met during the research, …it’s been so satisfying to see design research deliver such a tangible impact.
This month I’m featured in Prodesign mag.
The article harks back to my days designing surfboards and the moment I became ‘hooked on usability’ during a project for Sony Playstation.
It turns out this is the last issue of this magazine after 16 years.
What does that say about design in New Zealand?
…or does it say more about print publishing?
These two snippets make me wonder if a customer focused approach to business and design has truly taken hold here. One’s about Banks, the other Camper-vans.
Banks were some of the first companies in NZ to make a significant investment in usability and customer research, with leading banks improving their online and offline products and services. From internet banking, to call centres and even in-branch experience. Kiwibank even used this as a point of difference.
According to a recent survey, This User Centred approach has paid off.
The up-shot of the study was that ‘Banks provide the best customer service experiences’, with 7 of the top 10 spots in the survey taken by banks.
The survey company concluded that banks were “much more customer-focused” than other service providers
With people changing banks more frequently than ever before, it’s no wonder they are discovering and paying attention to the details which matter to their customers. (Telco’s fared the worst in this survey, but that’s another story)
Oh yes, and the camper-vans.
A coachbuilding firm in industrial South Auckland who build camper-vans are advertising a ‘User Experience Design Manager’ position.
They’re looking for an industrial designer who’ll need to ‘advocate and have a strong end user focus’ with the end result being “unforgettable holiday experiences” for their customers.
Many website design firms pay lip-service to user experience, but here’s a manufacturing company who’s seen the value of UX and is backing it up with budget and action, from a strategic level right down to the factory floor.
Maybe it was osmosis, or maybe there’s an exciting undercurrent of User Experience in the world of tourism and camper-vans.
Either way this is a great sign, and perhaps something to remember when you’re next stuck behind one on a hill.