User-centred design is a product development process that puts the end-user at the heart of the project. This means gaining an understanding of who they are — their wants, their problems and their perspectives — and then creating solutions tailored to those needs. When products are designed from their target user’s eyes, they are more likely to be embraced.
Many big brands are ardent followers of this process, including IKEA, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. In fact, McAfee reported a 90% decrease in support calls when they shifted their focus to the UX of one of their digital products, while Mozilla’s support calls decreased by 70% after figuring out user pain points and redesigning their product accordingly.
Let’s take a look at how this process benefits product development, as well as how it’s working for NavSta in its current phase.
The Benefits of a User-Centred Approach
The process of user-centred design requires user insights to determine the direction of the project from planning, designing, prototyping, testing, product launch and iterating the product’s capabilities once it’s in the hands of users. User testing is a huge part of the process, as it determines whether the product is on the right track or if it needs to pivot.
User testing can be an involved process that empowers end-users, so some businesses have historically seen this as a risky approach to take in terms of expense and disseminating control of the product direction. For those companies that continue to embrace it, they see that satisfying the needs of end-users throughout the product cycle, businesses ultimately benefit in several ways too.
1. Challenge Assumptions
Everyone moves through life with assumptions and preconceptions about how people behave, based on our own individual experiences and interactions. After all, we are a product of our experiences. A user-centred approach reminds us to step out of ourselves and think about the vast number of ways individuals actually behave. This is especially important in designing inclusive solutions that work for the widest range of users.
User research and user testing are vital if we want to challenge assumptions, as well as understand the people who use our systems. As designers, we need to be open to having our perspectives and expectations challenged.
2. Gain Better Insights
Testing with prototypes gives people concrete examples to better understand how the product works, instead of talking about them in the abstract. In fact, people may think they want something when you ask them, but the reality of that solution can be different when people get the chance to use it. Assumptions can come from users too and the only way around this is to prototype and observe user behaviour.
User testing brings the designer and the user together. With every iteration of the product, the end-user can better identify and articulate their challenges, while the designer gains a much clearer view of the relationship between the product and the user.
3. Avoid Costly Mistakes
Those who engage in user-centred design understand that failure is part of the process. They might take risks, add functionality, and then end up with a prototype that the end-user doesn’t engage with – but failure also means learning. What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? Who didn’t it work with? How can you use this information to improve the product?
Knowing the weak points of a prototype during the testing phase saves businesses time and money, instead of learning about issues after costly implementation cycles and product launch.
At the user testing stage, you can redesign problem areas while it’s still cost-effective to make changes. At the implementation stage, reworking the product becomes a bigger and more expensive endeavour.
Teams that follow a user-centred framework reduce the risk of doing expensive and large-scale changes down the line. You’ll only build what you know works, based on evidence gathered from user testing with real end-users, not just the opinions of internal stakeholders.
4. Improve Loyalty & Boost Competitive Edge
Creating a product that end-users will find easy to understand and follow builds positive user experiences. This means an increase in brand loyalty and a better reputation for the business, which will ultimately translate to an increase in user engagement.
All the data gathered during user tests gives businesses a clear view of their customers’ real-world experience and preferences. This can lead to more innovative product solutions and opportunities in customer experience improvements down the line.
Ultimately, customers gravitate towards products that meet their needs effectively.
Calvium’s User-Centred Process for NavSta
NavSta (or Navigating Stations) is our digital placemaking app geared towards helping those with neurodiverse conditions (e.g. autism, dementia, depression) find their way around railway stations confidently and independently.
We partnered with Open Inclusion, who are experts in inclusive design and conducting user research with people who have specific access needs. Open Inclusion were invaluable, being able to support research activities with the potentially vulnerable target users of the system.
Throughout NavSta we gathered insights and iterated through a cycle of information and improvement. This is an abridged version of the process we followed:
1. User Research
The role of research is key when developing products. For NavSta, the research led by Open Inclusion at the beginning generated valuable insights, giving us a better understanding of the end-users. From the data we collected, we understood that:
- The neurodiverse research participants experience a range of challenges when travelling on the train system – some of which stop individuals using the train at all.
- There are a lot of opportunities for making changes to help users, but many solutions would require large-scale data infrastructure changes to the train station itself, which is beyond the scope of our exploration.
- Some of the challenges identified had potential to be solved by simple app-based solutions – which is where we focused our efforts.
A range of different ideas and challenges were surfaces, which we processed into storyboards and highlight moments, to share with the wider project team.
2. Design & Prototyping
Our intended users’ goals were mapped out in full, as we generated ideas to explore further. This allowed us to determine what challenges were feasible to tackle and test during the project. So many ideas were technically possible, but not without fundamental data infrastructure changes to the current train station management process, and from our research and past experiences in wayfinding, we knew that this solution needed to stand-alone for users.
The concepts were turned into flows, defining how users and data would move through the system. The design and development team collaborated on writing the requirements for routing algorithms and data processes that would underpin the experience. Once the details were worked out, the interface was designed to support a range of accessibility needs, before being worked-up into working prototypes, allowing us to understand the effectiveness of the routing algorithms and full experience for the user.
3. User Testing & Iteration
Open Inclusion and ourselves tested with users that had also taken part in the user research sessions at the beginning of the project, evaluating the effectiveness of the solution in its separate use-case environments; as a trip-planning aide away from a station; and as an on-location wayfinding tool.
Through observation and interviews, we gathered a rich understanding of user behaviour in situations that our participants find challenging (e.g. navigating a train station). In these situations, we move past theories and into concrete responses to the tool in people’s hands, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of the way it works.
After a few illuminating days of observing interactions with the tool; and interviews with users about the experience, we were equipped with further insights and suggestions for improvements to the solution.
These insights were worked into the system, iterating what we previously had in response to our users. We’re currently in a cycle of re-testing these updated prototypes and measuring the impact they changes have made.
Learning From Users
User-centred design plays the long game. The process involves multiple tests, iterations, and more time devoted to understanding the end-users. However, the results speak for themselves. When digital teams shift the focus from their own opinions to an evidence-based approach, the relationship between user and product becomes clearer and we’re able to create solutions that people actually need and use.
This project is funded by the Department for Transport through the First of a Kind Round 2 competition, delivered by InnovateUK