UX and Me Article- by Eddy Haynes
In this article, I will describe how the principles of user experience design and the insights that I gained from the two workshops on user experience design and research will inform the development of my project.
This is both in terms of the overall approach of user experience design and how it emphasises identifying and addressing the needs of the people using your product or the users throughout the design process. Whilst also learning how to utilise specific techniques and processes such as creating “personas”, “empathy maps”, and “how might we questions” which will help me create a valuable digital product that adequately addresses the needs of my users. ( Chris How and Steph Troeth 2022, slides available at bottom of page, and Harley 2015, Gray 2017, Szerovay 2022)
What is user experience design?
A core principle of user experience design is the consideration of the user throughout the design process, building the design around identifying and solving problems for the person who will potentially be using this product. Rather than taking the top-down approach of creating a design and then giving it to those who use the product and hoping it addresses their needs. User experience design takes a bottom-up approach, putting the needs of the users at the heart of the design from the start and consistently referring back to them when making design decisions throughout the course of the design development.
Douglas Collins (2022) describes user experience design as “a social science that seeks to understand the wants, goals, needs, and pain points of users… through research, cooperative iteration, and continuous evaluation of the application” (Collins 2022, The UX Design Field Book p.4). Through this iterative process the aim is to create a final design that is “highly usable, ethical, and beneficial to our users” (Collins 2022, The UX Design Field Book, p.4).
It is this ‘scientific’ approach that elevates the design from merely being decoration with the final design of a product instead reflective of a thorough investigative process. (Collins 2022, The UX Design Field Book, p.4)
Visualizing the design process through The Double Diamond Model and the Design Squiggle.
One way of visualizing this process is through the “double diamond model” which segments the design process into four distinct phases split across two diamonds (Chris How and Steph Troeth 2022). In the first two phases and the first diamond as a designer, you are exploring what problems you need to address in your design and who your target audience for the product will be. These first two phases are called discover and define. As the diagram shows in these phases you are going from a general to a specific problem and you are aiming to achieve this through research and insights.
In the final phases the second diamond you are building towards developing your final design that is ready to go to market. These final two phases are terms that develop and deliver. Here you are moving forward with looking at a specific problem and developing your design until it offers a solution to this problem. This is achieved through ideation and prototyping. At the end of this phase, the design should adequately address the needs of the user which were identified in the discovery and design phase.
Another way of visualising the design process, which arguably conveys the inherent challenges of developing a design with more realism is the “design squiggle”, (Chris How 2022). This shows how at the start of developing the design in the research and concept phase, the designer experiences uncertainty and has to try and look for patterns and insights to gain clarity about the design. As you move from the prototype to the final design phase, you start to gain more clarity and focus till you reach the point, as this diagram shows, you gain a clear focus of your design rationale which can be represented by a neat straight line.
How this fits with developing my Project
These models and in particular the double diamond model are useful and productive in helping me to develop a plan for how to approach my project. I am in the discover phase of my project. I have identified a general problem or what is described in user experience research in the early period of developing a hypothesis as an “assumption” (Steph Troeth 2022). This assumption is that developers, particularly those at the start of their careers might have issues finding information on accessibility that is presented in an accessible style. This early hypothesis comes from research into accessibility content which has shown whilst sources on accessibility are numerous, the information is often presented in a way that I feel could be overwhelming and hard to digest, particularly for those at the start of their career. The Vox checklist (2022) is a prime example of this. I could see how it would be useful for developers but, beyond a small description, for each feature, it doesn’t explain how these accessibility guidelines can make a meaningful impact on the user. As a beginner, I find this seemingly endless checklist overwhelming, and even for more experienced developers, I can see how this sort of presentation could present accessibility as a chore to get through before publishing a website.
This assumption is a starting point that has formed the basis of the design idea to develop this design further and or to borrow from the “design squiggle” model, to turn the mess of lines into a clean straight line, I need to investigate further (Chris How 2022). Through practicing a number of the techniques involved with user experience design and collating together my learning from the user experience workshops, I will start to formulate the plan which enables progress onto the next stage of the diamond, beginning to identify my target audience and address the rationale of my design with greater specificity and clarity.
This article will go on to describe, firstly how I can work towards identifying a more specific problem and identifying a target audience for my project. I will then go on to describe how my insights from this process will go on to inform the planning for the content that will be on my website. I will then discuss the findings from completing exercises of developing, personas, and empathy maps and ‘how might we questions’ and how this can guide future research into my target audiences. Finally, I will summarise how the insights from the workshops, my research, and the process of constructing this article, practicing techniques such as personas have helped to develop my approach to the design of my major project and how I will plan the content.
Getting More Specific Defining the target audience for my project
The methods that I can use to approach this problem of gaining a clearer picture of my target audience are those learned through user-experience design workshops. These are personas, empathy maps, and ‘how might we questions’. I aim to use them in combination with each other to help me gain a more accurate understanding of my target audience and their needs and start to consider the more specific problems of users that I want my website needs to solve. This is often described in user research as establishing the ‘product promise’, understanding the ‘promise’ that you are offering to users when they are using the ‘product/service’ you are creating (Steph Troeth 2022).
I started with creating personas that are “fictional, yet realistic” descriptions of “a typical or target user of the product”. As Harley (2015) describes personas should include “needs, concerns, and goals, as well as background information, such as gender behaviours and occupation” ( Harley 2015 , Nielsen Norman Group).
I created four personas, Samantha, Serena, Jeff, and Matt. I tried to consider a range of users with different job positions including designers and developers and experience levels with beginners and users who are more experienced. I considered the potential goals and needs of each of the users, and the problems or more specifically “pain points” that they might consider when using the websites on accessibility. ( Harley 2015 , Nielsen Norman Group).
(this is version with four personas)
(This is an earlier version with just the three in more detail)
A key point of developing personas is by focusing on a ‘small set of individuals’, to start to ‘foster empathy for the specific users we are designing for’ and enabling designers to ‘break away’ from ‘attempting to design for everyone’. Whilst the findings will need to be further investigated by further research I nevertheless found it a useful exercise in enabling me to start “break away”(Harley 2015 , Nielsen Norman Group)from assumptions to “testable assertions”(Steph Troeth 2022). Creating the persona of Samantha for example enabled me to consider potential users of my website who are not from a development background and therefore might have different goals and needs. It also made me consider users who are not beginners which have so far been my primary focus in developing my ideas around my project.
The next stage was to look at creating two empathy maps. The empathy map is a means of exploring the goals needs and problems (often described as pain points) of an individual user. It was developed by the designer Dave Gray (2017) as part of a “human-centered design Toolkit”, whose purpose was to develop a “shared understanding and empathy for other people” in the design process (Gray 2017, Medium ).
In the context of my project empathy maps allow for an even more detailed analysis of the target audience than the user persona. I chose two empathy maps one of which was a beginner and one that was more experienced, and one from a design background and one from a development background. I did this because I thought it would be insightful to start to explore whether there could be any similarities in the goals needs and pain points of these two different potential groups.
As you can see from the image above the empathy map uses similar language as personas focusing on users’ feelings, and pain points. It also adds the task and overall goals which help to start to develop ideas towards specific design features that could be implemented.
In starting to consider specific design features that address the needs of my target audience I then moved on to writing some ‘how might we questions’. A “how might we question” is an “insight based actionable question that supports idea generation” ( Szerovay 2022, UX Knowledge Base ). They are used by designers to help identify how they might address specific problems and goals that users may have in a way that is ‘open-minded’ and recognises that there is not necessarily “one right solution”. ( Szerovay 2022, UX Knowledge Base ). Using the knowledge gained from the workshops when we practiced this technique, and what I’d learned so far from creating both the user personas and the empathy maps I developed some ‘how might we questions’ which you can see in the file below.
I found this exercise useful for future planning on how I might focus on developing specific design features. I can turn for example the needs and goals of one of the personas such as Samantha, who wanted an accessibility website to be relatable to those outside of web development, into a specific ‘how might we question’. This general goal can be turned into the question of how might we make users understand why accessibility is important. Or how might make sure the content is reliable to those with a non-technical background? This could lead to specific design choices, for example, I could consider the language used, or use illustrations or quotes from real people to illustrate the importance of specific accessibility features in web design. I could see how this question might crossover over with other questions such as, how might we make accessibility content easy to understand? Both concerns writing content in a way that is not too jargonistic, but it might solve different problems for different people. For example, it might be useful for a young developer such as Jeff who wants content written in an easy-to-understand way, because he doesn’t have a lot of experience and technical knowledge, or somebody like Samantha or Matt who may have more technical knowledge but may want to share it with teams of people who don’t. If the content is written in a more relatable way, it might help her persuade her team of designers on the importance of accessibility, even if they are not the ones directly implementing the code and implementing the accessibility features. Equally, with Matt, if the content is written in a less technical language there may be a greater chance his fellow developers might read it, as it will be written in a style that is different from other content they read frequently and therefore could be more enjoyable to engage with and memorable.
How this will affect the planning of the content on my website
These exercises have helped to synthesize my learning from user experience workshops and begin to consider how the insights gained and the techniques learned can help me towards developing my accessibility website.
It has enabled me to start to “break away” from generalisations I may have about my target audience and start to develop hypotheses that could be tested through user research such as questionnaires and surveys (Harley 2015 , Nielsen Norman Group). As Steph Troeth (2022) has described this is a key process of user research moving from an assumption, i.e most of our customers, who are struggling to do x”, to a hypothesis or “testable assertion”, our customers are struggling to do x because y”. For example it has enabled me to consider to what extent my website could be aimed at both more experienced developers and designers and beginners. There may be more crossover than I initially thought between these two groups and appealing to these two groups could potentially lead to innovative design solutions. This is an assumption that could be tested by reaching out to these specific segments of the web design and development community to see if there is a commonality in their pain points and goals when using accessibility websites. Through testing, it could lead to a testable assertion i.e perhaps both groups are struggling to understand the content on accessibility because of a specific way it is presented or how particular parts of the website are designed. I could investigate this through user research.
In addition to giving me a clearer picture of my target audience and how I might target research to gain greater clarity on their wants and needs. It has helped the process of starting to map out the potential “mental models” of my users, the “belief” that users have of what they know about a system that is informed by their experiences (Jackob 2010, Nielsen Norman Group)
These exercises have also crucially enabled me to start to think more specifically about the problems I want my website to address. The ‘how might we questions’ exercise has led me to start formulating ideas about how my website can be structured to address specific goals. For example, how might I make the content relatable to those without a high degree of technical knowledge or who feel a lack of engagement with content written in an overly technical style? Could I address this purely through the type of language I use or would I also need to think about how content is segmented, whether I use illustrations or images or simply how much content I write on each accessibility feature?
It also made me consider the central problem that I am addressing with my project. Is it making accessibility content more accessible or is it making it more meaningful and helping people understand the importance which caters towards people with disabilities? Or can it be both? I now have a clearer idea of what my “product promise” will be to users (Steph Troeth, 2022).
A note on Crafting Questions and Cognitive Biases
One of the useful insights from the UX research Worksop which I think I will be able to utilise further in my project development process when I am conducting research is how to craft questions, and how to be aware of cognitive biases.
For example, in the workshop, we learned the questions you can ask to gather context, such as sequence questions, i.e. What to do when are you doing his task, quantity questions, and how many options are too many? Questions to uncover mental models, such as comparing time, i.e How different do you think it will be in the future, and comparing to others, can you compare this service to another? Questions to uncover the unsaid such as a, simply a why question or a delicate probing question i.e you described this process as difficult can you give me more detail? This will be beneficial when I create the research questions for a survey or questionnaire that I can send to find out more about my target audience and how they use other accessibility websites.
Crucially I gained knowledge on the type of questions you ask in a survey i.e unambiguous closed questions and the questions you ask in an interview, open questions such as why when, and how? This will be useful in helping to decide whether to conduct surveys or interviews for my further research on my target audience.
One thing I will also bear in mind when constructing questions is cognitive biases such as “bandwagon biases in which people adopt a belief, based on hearing several others adopting the same belief”. (This would make me cautious about doing a focus group in case this happened with participants). I will also be mindful of confirmation biases “when we tend to listen to information that already confirms our preconceptions” when constructing questions and analysing the results. (Wood 2017, Mental Floss)
Overall Summary: Developing a design with a clear and refined focus
Through this article, I have established the knowledge I have gained on user experience design through the workshops, my research, and my practice of ideation techniques of empathy maps, personas and ‘how might we questions’.
I have set out the core principles of user experience design, and how it takes a scientific approach to develop a design that responds to the needs and goals of its target audience. How user experience designers plan and track their progress through the double diamond model, which breaks the designs down into the phases, discover, define, develop and deliver. I have also described more informal models such as the “design squiggle”, which provides a less refined but perhaps more realistic visualization of the design process(Chris How 2022). I’ve described how these models and the approach of user experience design could inform my process of developing my accessibility website, progressing from the discovery to the define, develop, and deliver phases or straightening the ‘squiggly line’ as my design becomes more refined and focused.
In the next section, I explored the processes involved in defining my target audience and developing its specific problems which my website could seek to address. I described in detail the background behind personas, empathy maps and ‘how might we questions’, which I had learned in the workshops and had established further context through my research. I then carried out an exercise of completing my personas, empathy maps, and ‘how might we questions’ and then set out how this could do could shape the content of my accessibility website and how it could guide future research into my target audience. I also considered how the insights from the user experience research workshop on crafting questions and avoiding biases could shape how I formulate questions for my research and whether I choose a survey or questionnaire.
Crucially throughout the process of writing this article and practicing the key ideation techniques of user experience design, I have begun to develop a plan for the development of my accessibility website. This is both in terms of how to model and track my progress and develop ideas for the content structure, style, and particular design features of my website. It has also played important role in the planning of future user research both in terms of what hypothesis to test and which specific segments of web development and design community I might want to target with questionnaires or surveys or other research methodologies.
Finally, the process of this article and the learning from the workshops have reinforced the importance of building a plan for the content and design of my website around a range of ideation techniques, and research which focuses on establishing who my accessibility website is for and what their needs are. Recognising the fundamental role that investigating the target audience and empathising with them plays in shaping the effectiveness of my website design.
Links and Sources
Chris How Presentation on UX Design
User Research Fundamentals 2022 Steph Troeth
Links to my Ebedded PDFs
Empathy Map Samantha https://eddyportfolio.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Empathy-Map-Samantha.pdf
How Might We Questions https://eddyportfolio.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/hmw-1.pdf
Collins, Doug 2022, ‘The UX Design Field Book, A Quick Guide to User Experience Design’, Printed by Amazon: Great Britain, Self-Published by Doug Collins.
Gray, David 2017, ‘Updated Empathy Map Canvas’, Medium, Published 15/07/2015. Available: https://medium.com/the-xplane-collection/updated-empathy-map-canvas-46df22df3c8a. Accessed: 05/01/2023.
Harley, Aurora 2015, ‘Personas Makes Users Memorable for Product Team Members’, Neilsen Norman Group. Published 16/02/2015. Available: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/persona/. Accessed: 05/01/2023.
Neilson, Jacob 2010, ‘Mental Models’, Neilsen Norman Group. Published 17/10/2010. Available: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/mental-models/ . Accessed: 09/01/2023.
Szerovay, Krisztina 2022, ‘How Might We Questions UX Knowledge Piece #30’, UX Knowledge Base. Published: 01/17/2022. Available: https://uxknowledgebase.com/how-might-we-questions-ux-knowledge-piece-sketch-30-22cc3a556130. Accessed: 09/01/2023.
Wood, Jen M 2015, ’20 Cognitive Biases That Affect Your Decisions’, Mental Floss. Published:17/09/2017. Available: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/68705/20-cognitive-biases-affect-your-decisions . Accessed: 09/01/2023.
Vox Media Accessibility Guidelines Checklist , Available: http://accessibility.voxmedia.com/. Accessed: 18/11/2022.