Before we could ‘define’ what problem we needed to solve, we had to conduct user research. User research tries to understand the ‘impact of design on an audience’ (Goodman, 2012). It seeks to gain a greater understanding of the who, what, and why of our users: how do you measure that impact, and what do you do with this gained understanding? For practical reasons and given limited time available to us, we limited our research to desk research.
Our group looked at competitors and online reviews, to get a better picture of common pain points and what software makes the same tasks easier. Competitors like Slack and Zoom were more popular for their chat and video functions, and people found the Teams interface bulky and inefficient. These issues aligned with our original heuristic analysis, and expanded our overall view of the product, something we couldn’t do in isolation.
We reached out to friends, family and colleagues for some informal discussions too, which helped with the next step of personas. Personas are created to summarise research findings and build a character around the person who will be using the product, revealing their needs, goals, behaviours and attitudes. They help with unifying a team and ensuring that you retain the sense of empathy created from early research, (especially useful when handing over to the design team in later steps). Decisions for designers are easier to make with the aid of personas. (Helen Sharp, 2019, p. 404)
Each member of our team created a selection of personas. We completed a market segmentation task that allowed us to see where our collections of personas were overlapping, and decided to merge them into two specific users: Tiffany, a secondary student using Teams during the pandemic, and Mary, a retired teacher who is completing a degree online. These two characters allowed us to focus our discussions on solving their problems, also supported by scenarios that we created.
We created scenarios to picture Tiffany’s world in digestible story form, to show where Teams fits into her life. Scenarios ‘describes human activities or tasks in a story that allows exploration and discussion of contexts, needs, and requirements.’ (Gibbons, 2018). Our scenario illustrated the nuisance Teams can be in her life, and thanks to its inconsistencies, requires her to use Whatsapp with her friends to clarify homework assignments and due dates.
I mentioned previously that an observational study was conducted. Empathy mapping was a great opportunity to illustrate these findings to the team. Empathy maps are used to break down what a user says, thinks, does and feels. It helps designers make decisions, and also unifies thinking in much the same way as the personas and scenarios do. (Helen Sharp, 2019, p. 408)
I also created a customer journey, which is used to illustrate the customer experience of a brand during the buying process through touch points . Personally I found this task difficult to complete, because the nature of Teams means it is often not an individual purchasing the software; rather the decision is in the hands of whatever school or organisation they are affiliated with. From this I learned that not every type of task you can complete is suitable for research. Part of the expertise required in user experience is the ability to know how best to illustrate your findings for each project.
Having collecting a variety of research grounded in empathy, we were ready for the next ‘mode’ of design thinking I outlined previously: ‘define’.