Needfinding in ID: What is your favorite technique for discovering user needs? | Coursera Community
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Needfinding in ID: What is your favorite technique for discovering user needs?

  • 9 August 2019
  • 9 replies

Userlevel 5
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Useful interaction design begins with understanding the needs and context of the users for whom we're designing. For me, the initial discovery phase has always been my favorite part of the design process. I really enjoy visiting people in their work and home environments. Observing how they interact with systems or objects. Listening to their stories and asking open-ended questions to learn more. I think I am an anthropologist at heart.

What aspects of needfinding do you enjoy? What discovery techniques do you use and in what context? Any tips or tricks that new designers to the discipline might find useful? Whether you've got decades of design experience or you're just starting out, I'd love to hear about your experience with discovering what users need.

9 replies

Hi Kai. I am not in the design field, and I don know that this is quite the answer you are looking for here. However, as an end user of technology and devices,I am going to take this opportunity to bend your ear a bit about how I think things should work.
Something I wish designers would take into account is ease of use getting started with a new item or technology.
If I have to read the destructions ... uh, instructions ... for anything except the most complex of tasks, and one that I have never done before, I tend to feel that the device was not designed properly in the first place. I should be able to intuit how something works fairly easily from experience with previous technology of it's type, logic and common sense functionality.
And, if I can break the device in pushing buttons to see what they do, it was definitely not designed correctly.
I, too am not very tech savvy but realize this is the present and future and needs to become part of our lives rather than fear it or shun it.
You asked about need finding. We need to think of others as well as ourselves. The elderly population’s needs are different, which often aren’t addressed. For example, at first, the writings in these forums were so faint, I could barely read them, probably due to aging eyes, cataracts, etc. Font sizes should also be a consideration and not always the same small size. Whenever something is created it should be tested on all ages and meet everyone ‘s needs. My favorite way to “need find” is to observe the struggles and successes of people around me.
Userlevel 1
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Understanding your user is one of the most difficult part. However, few tips and tricks usually workout well sometimes.
  • Communicate with your user in a free environment
  • Discuss his/her life goals, and interests
  • Coordinate freely at a friendly and informal way to let the user speak up
  • Avoid using formal language and jargon
  • Be simple and sincere
Userlevel 2
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Delighted to see Kai recognised in this role and community. She was v helpful to me a while back when I was looking into design resources

My interest in design has to do with the changes taking place in the field I work in - business/executive coaching. There is tech available to take the place of a human coach as well as complement the human coach - and loads of hybrids. All kinds of interactions are called coaching tho only a small % of them will be anything like a coaching conversation with a human coach. It's an active, exciting market that I like to follow and write about

Sooo, to discover user needs, we have a challenge. The end user is the client, e.g., a leader who works the tool. But there are other stakeholders that are nearly as important. How do you look into needs from different perspectives on the same product?

the main user is the leader/exec/manager
a key stakeholder is the organization (people in HR, Talent, etc) that purchases the product license for employees to use

another key stakeholder is the human coach who works with the leader

They all have an interest in a successful product, and some common needs. But other priorities as well.

Any experience with design in this context of multiple interests?

Userlevel 5
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@Instructional Designer Thanks for sharing your tips! They really highlight how important it is to meet users where they are and to be authentic during interactions. Relaxing with users during need finding I think can be really difficult for beginning designers and researchers because the data gathering process often makes an interviewer feel self-conscious about everything from not wanting to invade privacy, to presenting ones self in a professional manner, to gathering enough of the right data, to worrying about how long the interview or observation is taking. It almost feels as distracting as learning to drive a car---at least it was for me.
Userlevel 5
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How do you look into needs from different perspectives on the same product? ...Any experience with design in this context of multiple interests?

Hi @Carol so wonderful to see your post today! I'm happy to connect with you again. I think coaching is such an interesting challenge in terms of IxD. You make a great point about stakeholders. I think human-centered design (HCD), both as a method and a perspective, improves upon the earlier foundational idea of user-centered design. As a method, HCD brings together teams of stakeholders (ideally) or includes among respondents a diversity of stakeholder perspectives, not simply around needs and usability, but also design economics, production and/or implementation feasibility and integration with existing systems or social groups, etc.

I draw on IxD for my work in web design, instructional design, and workflow/data mapping for IT integration design for small businesses and nonprofits. A helpful tool is creating a stakeholders map and also mapping workflows or interactions from different perspectives. So one org I worked with provided nonprofit consulting services to 70 clients orgs around the country. They wanted to provide online instruction, facilitate the building of a crowdsourced knowledge base and peer mentoring, and automate a lot of routine administrative tasks as self-serve features for client use, like paying fees or registering for webinars and coaching sessions. The default position is often that executive leadership will evaluate options and make all workflow design decisions. But until mainline staff and clients are brought into the conversation the picture is incomplete. I've found this concept hard to sell sometimes but have found that walking leadership through just one workflow with the help of a staff member facilitates insight into the complexity of interactions (people, data, expectations, systems, evaluation, communication, collaboration, etc.) to be addressed.

I've found that literally drawing on a whiteboard each step of a workflow for a task like say registering a new client, including all applications used, people contacted, reports created (now and 6 months from now), and other processes that are set in motion, starts to drive home the idea that it's not just the admin assistant that's entering data that's critical to the needs analysis but rather all stakeholders, including the client and the experience of onboarding. When representatives from all these perspectives sit in the same room and have this conversation, it gets very interesting!
Userlevel 5
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@Judith I agree 100%!! Especially as my eyes age! I too want to see more universal design practiced in IxD. So many apps and tools and gadgets are developed without thought to age (young and old, mobility, sensory ability, etc.) I visited a new donut shop in town (Spokane, WA) yesterday, and I could not read their menu. It was written in tiny pastel letters on a chalkboard and then hung on the wall so high that I had to crane my neck way back to read it!

With so many wonderful design courses available on Coursera and elsewhere, I hope people of all ages and abilities get excited about IxD. Who better to empathize with and design for the needs of particular user groups than those users themselves?

I've heard of at least one older designer who in her 90s who broke into the design business, Barbara Beskind. Here's also a link to a story on her on NPR.
Userlevel 5
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And, if I can break the device in pushing buttons to see what they do, it was definitely not designed correctly.

Yes, amen to that!!!
Userlevel 2
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Thanks, @Kai Dailey, for your insights. Stakeholder mapping will work well in this situation. I'm working with a group that is looking at stakeholders from a market perspective, ie the whole ecosystem of buyers, users, providers and the current market incumbents, human coaches. We're also looking into ethics issues, and trying to get everyone in the room for those discussions

We also have to think ahead to communications/marketing. An organizational buyer of digital coaching tools has to communicate their availability to employees. The buyer's language and provider/vendor language sometimes need to be harmonized to manage user expectations. A lot of the tools will be called coaching, but will be very different from a human coaching conversation.

A lot going on in our market!

Very best,