What Allows Designers to be Productive?

At work today, the topic of productivity came up. What are the core practices that allow designers to be effective—user centered design.

Without access to users, our designs are guesswork. They become opinions of what we assume users will need and use. Without user research, the only way to receive feedback on our work is until we build and launch the software.

Our ability to identify, define, segment, engage, and understand our users is key. It helps the team to understand and visualize the problems we’re solving. It helps the team make evidence based decisions. It helps the team empathize and learn. We can focus on problems as much as solutions.

This is true for the core team and stakeholders. Interviewing users early saves the team time and effort from going down the wrong paths. It prevents us from over-committing to features and solutions.

It’s a reality check. A way to help us prioritize and manage scope.

A way to make sure that what we’re building is usable and will be adopted.

Across industries, the idea of testing your product happens through different lenses. The game industry has players play test; stand-up comedians try new material at smaller venues; restaurants have stalls at food festivals.

The way to understand our users and test our ideas is by putting something in front of them and seeing their reactions. Comedians don’t have audience members fill out a survey at the end of the show. They gauge reactions based on the laughter or silence of a joke.

As product designers, our tests happen in the form of interview and research sessions around behavior. We focus on what they currently do and can accompish with our solution, not just what they say. We’re doing this when we’re learning and exploring the user’s needs and domain, and when we’re evaluating potential solutions.

We interact with our users every week or every other week. If we go for too long without talking to users, the accrued risk is palapable on the team.