From a Nervous Newbie to a Novice Design Thinker
The thoughts and feelings of an introvert who found herself tackling the first exercise of design thinking whilst thrusted into the social tempests of a UX bootcamp.
At the heart of UX design is the user.
Thus was the first task designed by my brand new mentors to drive this fundamental home into my —UX nascent, UX lacking, brand new to UX, UX bare mind. This was going to be a series of ‘brand-new’s — I was part of the first batch of lab rats taking a chance upon what seemed to be a first time for many- from those organizing and outlining this UX bootcamp, to those setting the curriculum and to those participating in it. However the novelty of it all was accompanied by that age old, dreaded familiar feeling- most of us nervous types experience on the first day of college/ or a job- that feeling which creeps up on the excited butterflies in our stomachs- dampening their flutter with pangs of anxiety and self- doubt: the question we all struggle with- am I good enough to be here/ to do this/ Will I be able to?
I was sorted into a 5 member group which was going to be my peer review group for this particular task. And I found myself sigh with little relief when the symptoms of my apprehension and inertia were reflected very clearly amongst my fellow group mates. However time was fleeting, and tasks had deadlines, and so whether anxious or not — the time to take the plunge had arrived.
The task set for us was clear- each of the 5 members was allocated one room in the house- living, dining, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen- each of us was to interview the remainder, empathize, identify a challenge to solve and propose a prototype for the same.
Nothing helped to ease the qualms of mustering the courage to talk to strangers. However as I turned the page in my workbook- there were little prompts dotted across- as though the universe was helping me — every step had a series of instructions and guidelines to help us newbies navigate these unfamiliar tides.
I convinced my nerves- to take it at one step at a time:
Step 1: Empathize
The very first step- was to connect with my users (arrange a zoom call) and understand and immerse in their perspectives with respect to the “living room” (the room which I was pre assigned by the mentors). I was to prepare a series of open ended questions- to discern the mindset of my users- prior to the interview. A necessary step in the course of action but to the mind a nervous introvert a powerful tool of confidence — as I now had a set of conversation prompts as a mandatory pre requisite — at my disposal, and all I had to do was listen (while I made a few notes and recorded the conversations to review later) and soak in the responses- an art the likes of me master, at a young age.
As I sat in my own living room, I drew inspiration of what I may ask- of what may help my interviewees paint a vivid picture of their respective living rooms for me- of what questions would help me capture its physical aspects, the utilitarian aspects and what do I weave into the conversation to understand their personal preferences and predicaments.
Step 2: Define
After listening to the users multiple times and documenting their responses, I had to identify a problem that I would subsequently prototype for. The following is the problem statement I formed:
The problem is the clutter created by overlapping tangled wires of a TV system for a wall mounted TV unit.
Why was a resolution of the identified problem important to the users?
The living room is the first room a person sees as he or she enters his/ her home. It is the first room we show and welcome our guests in, it basically sets the mood of the home and reflects the personality of its owners. Thus some sort of messy wire clutter not only makes a bad impression but also dampens the glory of all the beautiful displays that are there alongside, by drawing attention to itself- an eyesore.
Step 3: Ideate
By the time I reached this stage my previously skittish mind was much calmer and eager for the next step. The workbook, prompted me to try the “crazy 8” method wherein I spent 8 minutes nonstop to come up with at least 8 different ways in which I could solve for the problem statement. During the exercise my brain was in a frenzy- bustling with ideas that I could use to resolve this problem. The following were my ideas:
Step 4: Prototype
After selecting my top three ideas on the basis of their pros, I did a quick search on Pinterest to validate the wire organizational ideas I had devised. I collected all the pictures specific to these shortlisted ideas in a folder, and then clubbed the ones that worked in harmony in subfolders. Thus a single strong concept for my solution began to emerge. I then concentrated only on the emerging strong concept and fortified that further- supporting it with costing estimates, installation processes and finishes.
The following is what I proposed:
Solution in words:
- The user can carefully gather the wires, and tie them together with an adhesive electric tape or a cable tie
- If the distance between the TV and bench/ shelf is less than 2 feet, the user can simply decorate the shelf strategically to hide wire with books, fancy sculpture, etc.
- If the distance is more- the user can use a adhesive PVC trunk and paste it on the wall with wires placed inside. This would require additional painting to match wall paint to camouflage.
- This makes the Living Room look neater than before
Step 5: Testing
The most crucial stage- because after all the judges of how relevant the solution and prototype concept was, were the very users who were living with this problem. My nerves were starting to kick in again- much like that feeling we get on the day our exam results are due.
Calls were set up with my group mates once again- screens were shared — the response was overwhelming. My prototype was well received and commended for its simplicity, diversity, economy and easy application. The only challenge my users could foresee was matching the colour of the PVC trunk with the existing wall colour. This was then submitted to my mentor for another round of inputs- thus paving the way for another fundamental- the importance of feedback driven iterations.
- It is better to break the ice by talking about general things first and then ask questions pertaining to the topic while conducting an interview- being upfront about how nervous I was put me at ease and also helped the users empathize with me incase I messed up, or stalled.
- Ask broad questions and then ask specific questions, and ask more questions related to specifics, impromptu. I found this became easier with each passing interview- relying on my presence of mind. Also I took the liberty of asking each group mate if I had covered my grounds well and for their feedback at the interview stage.
- A user doesn’t always see a problem especially if he/ she has become used to living with it. This where the ability to immerse yourself in the users perspective really matters- to be able to discern and probe gently- to see what is a problem indeed, but not on the surface.
- The more you talk to people, the more perspectives you get — some points you have never even thought of surface. Difficult as this maybe to implement for an introvert it is nonetheless a necessary tactic for a student with a penchant for learning and improving- this is the mantra I jotted down on a paper and stuck on a wall near my laptop while conversing with my group mates- a constant motivation to empower the disciple in me to trump the introvert in me.
- Its always good to record an interview, later you can make notes from that. It is difficult to take notes at the speed at which someone talks, and truly listen in and concentrate on what the person is saying while formulating specific, meaningful questions based on their responses and tracking which of the questions have been covered or need to be revisited from the pre prepared question base. Recording also helps you improve as an interviewer, when you re-listen, you can assess yourself too- coming up with ways to better frame certain questions, ways to reduce the repetitiveness — embarrassing as it maybe if you are like me, best to remind yourself that only you are privy to this.
The rat has thus completed her first UX maze successfully. She has gained hands on experience in design thinking and has understood its importance.
All in all I can say that UX Design as established is user centric and all of my initial exercises in the bootcamp (even the ones that followed this one) involved the extensive and daunting task (for an introvert) of reaching out to people and understanding them and their needs. However this should definitely not discourage my fellow introverts from participating in such a thrilling learning experience or considering UX design as a profession — as the one dominant feather we already all have in our caps- of listening and empathizing with users is what forms the very crux of UX!