Have you ever faced any difficulty understanding your user’s expectations and pain points? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Most designers face similar kinds of problems when they are first introduced to a new domain. When I first joined IFS in 2021, the most difficult challenge was to understand the user and domain. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to overcome that challenge.
According to the design thinking process, the first step of understanding the user is empathy. Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.
My domain in IFS is Aviation and Defense. Even though I was passionate about the aviation industry, it was purely for the glamour shown on those advertisements and movies. I was a novice learner. Soon after I joined, I was overwhelmed by the technical documentation. After months of research, trials, and mistakes, I was familiar with what I ought to know!
Watch documentaries or movies related to your field
As an initial step, if you do not have a passion or interest in your field, or do not have any clue about where to begin, the best way to start is to watch real world stories about your industry. It can be either documentaries, movies based on true story or vlogs. In all these various formats you can find how each person interacts with each other in the real world, work process, technical terms, and daily responsibilities. While you are doing these activities, you can make notes about their work environments, pain points and responsibilities in the job
Review and analyze technical documentation and product
After being inspired by all those real-world experiences, now you can investigate technical documentation and demonstrations of the product. You will be looking into software from a fresh set of eyes, and it is a great chance to do some preliminary usability testing to check basic design standards. By this time, you will not have the full idea about the personas and domain but doing so you will explore and analyze technical knowledge of the product.
Once being an adequate user of the product and domain, now you can build the draft version of your persona. The important thing here is that you will be getting a brief idea about what to expect from users in your interview. In user interviews always try to be an empathic listener and ask open ended questions. Interviewing real world users can bring new perspectives to your persona. For example, I was wrong about military pilots’ age and experience until I talked to an actual user. From my initial research I found that an experienced pilot, or a pilot with a higher ranking must be at least 30-35 years old. But turns out, from an early age military pilots have higher experience due to the nature of their work.
Observing users are a great way to gain empathy and learn how they use the product. If you do not have the possibility to do that, you can join a customer demonstrations or discussions, you can observe what kinds of expectations they have and their working environment.
This is one of the effective methods of understanding the user. Interacting with real users, observe how they understand the behavior and practical problems when using the product or device. However, to successfully conduct the test, you need to have basic understanding about the mental model of the persona and business problem that we are trying to solve.
You do not have to follow these steps in the exact order. For an example, it is easier to set up an interview if you know a bit about the product and the context which persona is interacting with the product. But you can do an interview with little knowledge if you focus on them telling you about their job, their pain-points, and their experience of using the product. Keeping the interviews very open and focused on listening, you will start building basic knowledge which you then can use to do more detailed interviews or other research studies.
In conclusion, as a user experience designer you need to develop skills like active listening, modesty, logical thinking, and curiosity to empathize with the user.
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