Why do some products seem like great ideas, but they don’t succeed on the market? Successful products must deliver value by meeting user needs and expectations. Discovering true user needs is the primary objective of the user experience (UX) design team at the start of a new product development project.
No one sets out to purposely design a product that doesn’t meet user needs. Where do unsuccessful projects take a wrong turn? Often, they don’t take the time to properly execute a full discovery process.
In Designing for Product Strategy by O'Reilly Media, Inc. a key lesson about UX Strategy is: “How a team executes a discovery phase can be the deciding factor between how a product will ultimately deliver real value through a killer UX and create real value for the stakeholders.”
Discovery is much more than an afternoon of brainstorming. While brainstorming is a useful technique, it’s just one tool in our discovery toolbox.
Our goal in the discovery process is to gather information with an open mind. We need to use divergent thinking so that we’re open to new insights about the real problem that the product should solve for the users. Confirmation bias must be avoided.
What we mean by confirmation bias is focusing on information that supports conclusions we already have. Restricting your viewpoint to promoting a specific solution or plan will negate the benefits of the discovery process. A well-executed discovery process will identify any false assumptions and prevent wasting resources developing the wrong product.
We like to think of discovery as climbing a mountain. We want to get to a place where we can look around and allow ourselves to be surprised and informed by what we see.
Throughout the discovery process we will ask who, what, when, how, and why. We ask these questions to different users in different environments. To get a complete picture we use multiple methods such as:
Every discovery process is different, and will be executed to meet the needs of the project. For example, when we were developing a mine management system for Meglab, we investigated the world of underground mines.
Through research, interviews, and analysis we learned what the lighting is like underground, whether or not people are wearing gloves, what the sound level is, what the user’s proximity to screens would be, and more. These discoveries helped us develop desktop, kiosk, and mobile applications with highly usable interfaces that provided the experience the users wanted and needed.
When developing a new product, it’s tempting to dive right into the technical details. But, taking shortcuts in discovery will only lead to dead ends and require backtracking, which costs both time and money. The discovery phase allows the development team to understand why they are developing the product, which dramatically increases the quality and efficiency of the entire product design cycle. Your project plan should devote a minimum of 3 weeks to discovery, and possibly more, depending on the complexity of the project.
The UX design team typically leads the discovery process, but all teams should be included. It’s in everyone’s best interests to ask questions and make observations to understand what the users are trying to do and what they need. In upcoming blog posts we’ll talk about the formal design brief that documents the definition of the user’s needs.
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