Involve users through the design phase


Steps to involve users from the start

I think it might be interesting for you to follow a design project where the focus is on how to involve users to create better usability.

Right now I’m working at an IT-company and I’m also a full-time  student in my second year. I study (as you might have guessed) usability, digital design and user experience design. And during my workdays I’m a project manager handling IT-development projects. Which is a great way to apply my knowledge in real life.

Here I will introduce you to a project from school. We have just started and the goal is to make a user centered design (UCD) process. The users are going to be involved through the whole process.

How do you find the users’ needs? We had to focus on an area where people have an interest or hobby that takes a lot of their time and the goal is to design a mobile application.

My target group is people who are interested in Harry Potter (Potterheads ).

To find out more about what they do, I met some Potterheads and asked them, not what they expected from an app, but what they like to do. They list these activities:

  • Reading and discussing the Harry Potter books
  • Watching the movies
  • Writing their own stories about Harry Potter (fan fiction)
  • Visiting events and places where the movies took place
  • They like games about Harry Potter
  • They try to live a Harry Potter lifestyle

I have also visited a huge number of communities and blogs about Harry Potter to learn more.

I created a mind map that helped me to organize the activities.  As you see, it does not have to be fancy or take a lot of time to create.

From this, I created three “personas.” Personas are representations of your key users. They are suposed to help me focus on the target group through the design process. Read more here.

I ended up with a PACT-analysis, which means describing the People in the target group, the Activities they like to perform, the Contexts where activities take place and what this requires from the Technology.

The last  two thing to do in this start up phase was to:

  1. Describe the purpose: to support Potterheads in their activities and help them get larger communities with a focus on genuineness and the experience
  2. Describe the goal: design a mobile application that encourages interaction and helps Potterheads to meet, discuss and play games.

This is where I am right now in the design process. I will continue my travel and I hope you will be a part of it. Please share you thoughts and tips below.

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16 Replies to “Involve users through the design phase”

  1. I’m not in the IT or designing field but whatever you described is certainly good knowledge for the business and marketing mind.

    Here we are looking at how to complement the activities of the end users. For your example you have used Harry potters fan and you created an understanding of what they ‘like’ to do and build upon it. Likewise I think this concept can be used for multiple purposes. For example, if you want to create a website, you need to know what your target audience want. It is good to get the views of others to establish a clearer picture.

    Thank you for sharing this valuable lesson!

    1. So true, I have earlier developed training programs for people that works in power plants. And we did the task analysis and looked at the context and technology and so on. Like you say: its useful for many kind of developments or improvements where you like to get visual effects from what you do. Start with the humans involved, that is the important message:)

  2. This was a very interesting read, I think a lot of people who are out there trying to reach the people they intend to serve forget how to have that conversation. They forget the language they used when they first started or were first introduced… they forget their own initial questions. Engaging your audience in that conversation is a fantastic idea! Thanks for putting it out there!

    1. Thank you, glad to get this feedback. I think this is important in all services that includes humans. Easy to just focus on your own intentions and to put your own knowledge in work.

  3. This is an important concept when creating anything for others. Often we create things based on our own needs and biases. When we do this we leave out the most critical piece. The user. We are creating for others, not ourselves. I believe the most critical thing one can do is ask questions. It is only through questions that we can expand our understanding. Through questions, we identify areas that we already know but more importantly we identify ideas and concepts we never even thought about before. With these new ideas, we can then use our creativity to design something greater than what already exists. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for this comment. I usually meat people in different business segments and its crucial for my understanding to ask questions. If I don’t know what the user/client/customer expects or intend to do I probably will not deliver something of value for them.

  4. Communication is an excellent way to engage our users. It makes a lot of sense because if e create something wonderful, but it fails to be what our users need to see/experience, then we would have wasted a lot of time. Thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you for commenting:) You are absolutely right, a wonderful product that’s not what the users expected is waste of time.

  5. I studied architecture in college and there was a lot of lip service about interacting with the client. It was fun to design space that provided a pleasant experience. But, it was also time-consuming.

    In the working world, I found that architects prefer not to include the client any more than they legally must because it slows down the design phase. Time is money.

    However, if you are in control of the design process, interacting with the end-user is a must. That said, I hope you can find a way to work for yourself and design the way you want.

    1. Hi and thank you for your valuable feedback in this matter. Where I work we try to involve users, but as you say, its important to regard time spent. But in my experience when building applications and systems, there is a lot of time consumed in the end of the project, fixing all things that isn’t what the client wanted/expected. And we use this as an argument to actually spend some time initially. We do observations during half a day and things like this to learn about the users work day, and it pays of in the end and gives us a better idea about the needs.

      But i time is an important factor to consider.

  6. Great article!!!
    What you did with the Potterheads is called VOC (Voice of the client) it is a powerfull tool for projects, products and business. If the VOC analysis is well done you should get to your clients (Clients) real needs!
    It seems that you are going the right way!
    Search some articles about Six Sigma Projects it might help you.


    1. Hi! It is a great tool that can be used in many areas. Thank you for the tips I will check it out. I used to work with training development, where I managed to develop new trainings for people working in nuclear power plants. We actually did the same kind of analysis, started with their tasks and what they needed to “know”, “do” and how their “attitude” was supposed to be.
      In system development and IT there haven’t been this focus earlier and I think this is really important, to focus on the users real needs.

  7. I love the website it was simple not a lot of reading to do it looked very clean. I was under the impression that we wanted to push for about 1500 words per post but you’ve clearly been successful with less is more. And about usability we all can use that info on our own campaigns what are your driving factors for traffic and how long have you owned your URL. Did it make a difference as opposed to the free website. all in all i thought it was very good getting the point across and very good graphics. You’ve made me realize that i have a lot of work to do on my own site.

    1. Thanks a lot, glad to hear this:) It’s actually a new site, and I’m taking my first baby steps to try if there is a market. I know this is important issues and that it will help a lot of people, but I need to find the right “twist” and the “readers needs”:) I guess I’m not a person that writes very long texts generally, I like to keep it simple, thought the message must, of course be clear. I think your and other input here is very important for developing my content, I can see people needing help structuring their blogs and web sites. I think its a great subject, thanks!

  8. Hey – this is an interesting article for me as I work in the IT industry and I like this approach.

    It’s a good take on initial requirements gathering, but rather than asking “what do you want”, you’ve kind of tried to get into the mindset of your target audience and understand them, what motivates them and what they like to do.

    I’m interested to see where it goes from here – how do you determine the business outcomes of your project.

    Am I write in thinking that the personas you’ve derived will become the users in the user stories that you’ll develop? Will you try to get beta testers to act as “real” users to help you develop the ideas?



    1. Hi and thank you:) Yes the personas are supposed to be used in the scenarios (user stories) soon in the process.Personas based on real users. We are going to try to get some people from our target group to test as soon as we have developed some prototypes. Feels important to test the concept before going into development of the actual product.

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