The almighty solution

Don’t fool yourself: putting all your [team’s] efforts into creating a one-size-fits-all solution can be costly, tricky, and, ultimately, not surprisingly unsuccessful. Suppose you are working for either a small startup or a giant, well-established company with hundreds of smaller teams. In that case, you will frequently face the temptation of creating an almighty super-duper product or feature to solve everyone’s needs in one go — “one ring to rule them all.” That is a big, big trap, which most of us have fallen into before and will probably face again shortly.

Happy news? Adding research methods, practices, and exercises to your toolbelt – even when, for any reason, a design sprint is not the answer – can help you face the Nasty Almighty Solution myth.

Pen or pencil?

An easy metaphor? Working as a designer, you had hypothetically been assigned the task of creating a tool to allow someone to write stuff down on a blank sheet of paper. Easy, right? Well, it depends. One could come up with a pencil to answer the problem, while others could bet their chips on a ballpoint pen. Both solutions could fit the user’s needs — or neither of them  — if you haven’t asked the right questions. Does the user need to be able to erase what he or she wrote before? Or, the opposite, does the writing need to be definitive? Add some context to it: what’s the scenario — a spaceship in outer space with zero gravity? A windy rooftop somewhere in the desert with no furniture? A comfy office in a city center?

Learning about your users (who they are, what they need) is one of the earliest steps in understanding. Don’t hold yourself back, don’t be afraid of diving deep. Here at Pismo, a technology company, we spend a lot of time focusing on solutions for financial institutions. Our employees’ roles are diverse: some will have an analytical position, weighting impact of fee changes, digging into numbers. Others will play strategically along with marketing and sales. And, still, some will only have low impact administrative rights, such as updating emails, phone numbers, and so on.

We might be tempted to create a one-size-fits-all solution by building a complex hybrid pencil-pen to fulfill everyone’s needs. Don’t be that kind of hero. Take a step back, gather information, and find out who you are designing for, increasing the chance of creating something that fits faster and way more accurately.

The who

Personas are the main characters that illustrate the user’s needs, goals, thoughts, feelings, opinions, expectations, and pain points. We can say that the persona is the voice of the user. How do we find our voice? First, in every step of your career, asking questions should be like a mantra to you. That being said, remember:

  • Talk to stakeholders;
  • Interview people who are familiar with the problem;
  • Find potential users to give you insights;
  • Explore products intended to sort out the same problem, learn what works and what is missing.

That will be key to developing the personas of our users — who they are, what motivates them, and how they are experiencing the problem you have to work on.

A persona profile should include:

  • Picture (photo or drawing)
  • Name
  • Job title
  • Demographics (How old? Married? Have children? Studied where?)
  • Goals and tasks
  • Environment
  • Quote

Remember to keep it real, not idealistic. The persona profiles you develop will lead you to recruit the right users to test and validate your solution. Either an InVision prototype or a bunch of real codes can make the experience more believable. Testers must relate closely enough to the personas you’ve envisioned.

The user journey map

After developing your personas, you should be ready to create a user journey map — or multiple ones, if you have many stakeholders and players involved in your business problem. A Map involves, as the name implies, mapping out a user’s journey as he or she encounters and interacts with your product. It can start with the first introduction to the product, but it can also begin with a task the user is already familiar with: searching content, setting up an account, etc. These are the steps:

  • Define your starting point;
  • Choose an ending to the timeline/journey;
  • Break down all steps in between, including descriptions, highlighting pain points along the journey, adding context. That sequence of steps should rule your approach towards the experience you want to provide, the problem you’re about to solve, and how you want the user to feel after contacting your solution.

A personal adventure

Recently we were assigned to improve a fee-setting feature, which is a small part of what our Platform can do. Believe it or not, some of those routines still rely on Excel spreadsheets to come to life. After talking to stakeholders and interviewing people who had been working with such tasks closely for more than 15 years, we developed our personas and defined their journeys:

  • Users access our platform from desktops computers only (device), from a secure network inside their office (scenario, context).
  • Most of our users are in their 30s, wear glasses, and spend more than 6 hours a day in front of the screen. Contrast, font sizes, and accessibility options became issues.
  • A review process was part of the game for that task, but no previous app took care of that for them — reviewing became an additional step for us.

A lot of discovery emerged from this, and a mobile solution took shape.

Don’t make excuses: embrace design!

Everyone loves the Brazilian digital bank Nubank and how it has been pushing boundaries in the user experience scenario. But not everyone understands this is more an outcome of embracing design and research than thinking of beautiful interfaces. It bore fruit as a consequence of seeding the value of design across teams, hats, and hierarchies.

We are only now starting to embrace design here — doing it bravely and with open arms, though! It doesn’t matter how big of a believer you are in design sprints (and I am one of those). Sometimes you won’t have a whole week to spend or enough substance to jump into it. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from bringing elements of a design sprint into your process. Authors of the sprint book even recommend it, and that’s how we are trying to move ourselves to the next level.

This article was written to the mesmerizing and beautiful sound of PJ Harvey ❤ If you’re a fan or want to talk a bit more about design challenges, keep in touch.

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