Client-Centred Research

Word on the street is that the benefit of User Centred Design is hard to prove… I’m a fan of UCD as a process and I think that it is difficult to measure where process has been central to outcome, but today that’s a tangent. Part of the argument that is made is that a good designer can do almost as much by applying their design experience and expertise as what can be achieved through a UCD approach. In many cases, I heartily agree. Sometimes the process is more about the client than it is about the end users.

A project I’ve been working on recently is a case in point. This project is a pretty big deal – a lot of time and effort and, of course, money, have been ploughed into it already and there is plenty more to follow. Stakeholders have already been working on this project for ages when I get the call to come in and do my thing.

From a quick look at the proposed designs it is clear that there are some fairly significant issues that need to be resolved – both at the proposition level and at a more tactical, executional level. I don’t need research to tell me that and, because of my experience, I have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to fix this.

There is no WAY that I am going to be able to persuade all of the stakeholders who have invested so much in their current approach that they need to make the changes I’m suggesting… after all – I’m just one voice. One subjective, lonely voice… with my opinion alone, I have a long, lonely and difficult path ahead to try to get my clients to make the right decisions. Chances are, I’ll not be successful.

Cue user research. By conducting a quick round of user research I develop astounding powers of persuasion, because it is no longer my subjective, individual opinion that I am asking people to trust. Through the access I have to data accumulated in the course of research, I am able to validate my opinion with something much more substantial – the voices of the end users, the stories of my interactions with those end users, anecdotes, examples, tangible stuff.

Is this just a waste of project resource? Should I spend more time on trying to be more persuasive and less time on research? I think not.

In my experience, by talking to and observing your end users, by looking for patterns and themes, there is always something interesting to learn – almost always something that is directly applicable to your project, and if not, then certainly something that will help you develop in your ability to understand and design good user experience. If you’re interested in social interactions online, then staying in touch with how people are talking about, thinking about, using different tools is something that you should regularly be doing. Take this opportunity to throw in a few questions related to ongoing areas of interest.

At the end of the day – our job is to try to make sure that good decisions are made about the user experience of projects we are working on. If it were up to us alone, perhaps we wouldn’t need research. For as long as persuasion (of our clients, stakeholders etc) is a critical part of our role, research is an incredibly useful tool.

Are you using it?

3 thoughts on “Client-Centred Research

  1. Hi,

    I’m a bit late to this one, but I can’t believe no-one else has commented!

    Research in some form is absolutely vital to the success of most projects, but sadly in my experience it’s generally not done. The users of any application or site are unique in some way, and there’s no way to tease out the true behaviours and motivations of these users without some kind of research.

    Sadly in a lot of organisations this is seen as unrealistic, but as you’ve said yourself, I think the problem is that clients aren’t yet sold on the benefits of UCD in many cases. These benefits need to be seen in terms of cold hard cash before a client wants to spend any money on it, and that isn’t surprising.

    So I suppose in a nutshell we all need to really “sell” the benefits of what we do, on an individual client level, but also through blogs, events etc.

  2. Hi Gary, I agree with you & Ruth. UCD and UX are relatively uonknwn in Government agencies despite the formulation of UCD teams in several Federal Govt depts. Appropriate use of tools and techniques is the best & most practical methodology. Incorporating UX & UCD into SDLC / project methodologies in govt especially fitting in with project managers, architects, developers, BAs is the biggest challenge for most UCD teams and my particular interest.

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