The 'Edge Report Blog

Collaborative Design: A Recipe for Being Proactive

February 27, 2017

For the past two months, I have been interviewing many recent User Experience graduates and asking them one question in particular: “What is more important? Fixing the customer’s problem or creating a good customer experience?” I received many different answers. Some answers were brief, some were verbose. Some folks answered cogently, and some answered in tangents. But then last week, I met Sarah, a soon-to-be grad from Bentley University. She answered, “Creating a good customer experience is far more important. Because, that is all about being proactive, while fixing customer problem is all about being reactive.” That is exactly the mindset and answer I was seeking. I hired Sarah to join our UX team.

Prioritizing the customer experience is precisely in line with the culture we are cultivating here at HealthEdge. While we are busy building great new features in a fast and nimble manner using Agile techniques, we are all ears to customers and end users. This year, the UX team, product owners and engineers are hitting the road to visit as many customers as possible. Although customer experience involves much more than User Interface and other teams are engaging our customers on multiple fronts, UI design and usability are the immediate targets for the UX team. Our foremost goal is to strengthen our Personas so we can design and develop keeping the user first. Interviewing end users helps us empathize with them better. Empathizing with the users in turn, bridges the gap between how they need to go about doing their tasks efficiently and how the software is actually letting them do so. We are testing design mockups with end users and their representatives so we can proactively weed out small and seemingly stupid usability issues before they become code. If questions arise that warrant further discussions, this approach allows us to do so ahead of time.

We are exploring ways to bring users to the design stage. We do this by employing two main activities: Design Sprint and Participatory Design. Design Sprint is typically a five day exercise where the UX team, Product Owner(s), Engineering leads and representatives/end users of customers meet daily and finalize the design approach, soup to nuts. Typical goals of a design sprint is to have high level agreement on requirements, how they translate to screens and user flows while mitigating any engineering challenges.

Participatory Design goes a bit further. These are ad-hoc or time-bound sessions where actual end users and other stakeholders are involved in the design process to ensure that the result meets their needs and is usable. The process empowers everyone to participate in a co-designing exercise akin to “pair programming.” The participants are free to draw on paper, call out things on paper designs of others and be in the weeds of design thinking collectively. Research has shown that this speeds up innovation[1]. Again, these sessions are most useful when tackling larger newer features and products.

The idea behind both the approaches is to close the feedback loop between the end users and the product team. The more proactive both parties become, the shorter the feedback loop. Shorter loop means seamless “User Centered Design”. This directly translates to fewer usability feature rework requests/tickets in the future, which reduces the overall reactive noise.

It does take time to rally all the troops on both sides and align the commitments needed for these kinds of sessions. One of the best thing customers can do is to collaborate with the team through regular design review sessions, periodic touch points and usability tests, on-site or remote. Consistently reviewing designs before they are implemented and participating in usability tests in alpha or beta stage greatly helps reduce those pesky issues I mentioned above.

The UX team here at HealthEdge is already working closely with many of our customers and is always looking to collaborate with them even more. These collaborations can include visits to customers on-site, watching the end users in action, interviewing people in person and collecting valuable qualitative data.