User Centred Design and Defining your Narrative

Jan 16
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Innovation and positive change in organisations requires a vision to present the future or end state, and its benefits. User Centred Design and storytelling is key to this.

The process

The research and concepting phase is key to delivering a solution that solves a customer or business problem and User Centred Design (UCD) has become the best practice approach. This is largely due to the use of field/ethnographic studies in the research phase and the validation of concepts through user testing and feedback. The first incarnation of UCD could be seen in Design Thinking (developed in the 1970s) that argued for a shift away from analytical thinking to creative thinking in an attempt to innovate and problem solve. The approach encourages people to think outside the box.

The process includes engaging a broad range of disciplines from accountants, creatives, technologists and subject matter experts within the organisation in concepting workshops (often referred to as ideation). The workshop starts with broad ideas that would solve a user need and narrows down to the best ideas that solve the problem. This is driven through the user research that promotes empathy during the concepting phase. Finally, designs are validated by testing a prototype with users and seeking feedback.

The narrative

The use of narrative and organisational storytelling is on the rise. CEOs and thought leaders have turned to it as a way to communicate a vision. The reason for this is that stories evoke emotion and empathy that inspire people, partly as they can put themselves in the shoes of the story’s character(s). For CEOs and thought leaders, storytelling has the potential to generate buy-in and motivate people to deliver the vision, and UCD is a way to identify these stories. This is partly because of the authenticity that comes from the UCD process and its approach to validating the solution.

Creating the narrative

Effective user research captures stories about people, which include their ideas, feelings, desires and behaviours in the context of their environments. This raw data is typically used to create personas (a character describing these stories) and map out journeys and customer touch points to help design solutions for customer or business problems. This is in line with the classic art of storytelling, depicting character(s) and their journey to overcome conflict, set against locations and events. In organisational storytelling, conflict is replaced by a business problem and the happy ending is the customer achieving their goal(s).

Creating stories through UCD

There are 4 steps to creating a narrative from UCD:

  1. Use the narrative construct to tell your story. That is i) there are character(s), ii) set against a series of events, iii) as they try to reach their goal by resolving conflict. In addition, stories use a three act structure: they have a beginning, middle and an end.
  2. Use the customer or business problem as the story’s conflict and the user goal as the character(s)’ goal.
  3. Identify the character(s) through the personas. Personas are key outputs of UCD research. They are used to assist with design by User Experience Designers and typically contain i) the character details (name, age, back story, goals and frustrations), ii) attributes, iii) their relationships and iv) specifications such as technology awareness, touch points etc.
  4. Craft their journey. This will come from the customer journeys, another output of the UCD process.

In conclusion

This vision presents the future or end state, and its benefits. It therefore cannot be fact but must be based on fact to support its possibility. This is where UCD can be used as it creates personas/characters people can relate to, and builds authentic scenarios to capture an “as is” and “to be” state that presents the future vision. These genuine stories can motivate and spark change to lead people to the future. Because what’s the point of a vision if nobody has bought into it? You can’t achieve it in a vacuum.

Peter Buckmaster is speaking on ‘Undertaking research to create a seamless & frictionless customer experience’ at the User Centric Service Delivery in the Public Sector Conference. Book your place by February 12th to save $200!

User Centric Service Delivery

Submitted by Peter Buckmaster

Peter Buckmaster

Peter is a digital specialist in strategy and service design delivering sustainable customer experiences across retail, telco, finance industries and education. He is currently the Director Digital, managing the Digital Services team, Department of Education (DoE) within the Communications and Engagement Directorate. The role includes delivering the “re-platforming and redevelop” of DoE websites onto a newly supported website publishing platform. This has also included delivery of a strategy, call the Global Experience Framework (Language), to achieve the velocity and speed needed to meet the short timeframes of website redevelopment. The DoE digital platform (website, intranet and portal) supports 2.75 million visits per month.

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