4 UI/UX Training Activities for Design Thinking

Developing a collaborative approach to problem solving

Dr. Dani Chesson defines design thinking as an iterative and collaborative approach to problem solving that is particularly effective when the issue at hand requires innovation and change.

In this piece, we outline four UI/UX training activities that contribute to change, innovation, and customer-centered products: Contextual inquiry, personas, scenarios, and journey maps. These activities reflect key design thinking tenets. These tenets include learning from the people, finding patterns, and making it tangible.

Contextual Inquiry: Learning from People

You’ve heard it before, study your users. The challenge is which methods to employ and when. Contextual inquiry, a semi-structured interview method is useful because it combines questions and observation. Normally, researchers begin by posing a set of standard questions and then observe the person in her natural work environment.

However, there are some common misconceptions about contextual inquiry that need to be discussed:

  • It takes too long. Let’s just run a usability test.
  • Okay, we’ll do it, but we’ve got to send a big team. The product managers will want the opportunity to talk the customers. No, big mistake! This approach vitiates the value of contextual inquiry, which is based on the idea learning from people. Think about it. If you were an employee, would you feel comfortable going about your daily routine if 10 strangers literally walked up to your desk? Or course not, but this happens more often than you might think.

Contextual inquiry is like neurosurgery with lower stakes. It requires a soft touch, a keen eye, listening, and a darn good poker face.

Skip the team huddle and go lean. Your prospects and customers will thank you, and you’ll learn much more.

Send one or two seasoned UX researchers or ethnographers into the field. If two researchers make the trip, ask them to divide and conquer but also to conduct some observations jointly. That way, they can cover more ground than one person but also harness the advantages of two brains as they aim to understand users in their natural environment.

Listen and observe carefully, take photos (with permission), and be aggressively opportunistic. Yes, you read that right. When in the field, you should always be on the lookout for situations, operations, informal meetings, any on-the-ground, real world activity where people are going about their normal routine.

For example, while conducting contextual inquiry focused on operators of heavy machinery in Mexico, a colleague and I stumbled across a group of operators returning from “comida.” We literally jogged over (steel-toed boots are heavy so no sprinting) and started asking questions. We quickly realized that these operators had much to share and listened intently (scribbling notes while standing in the mud) as they identified a serious problem that had never occurred to us or anyone back at corporate headquarters. We learned a great deal during the study, but this single insight alone made the entire trip worthwhile.

Sometimes you don’t need to travel far to conduct useful on-the-fly research. In How we designed our bank account: NuConta — Part I, Erick Mazer Yamashita describes how he and his colleagues interviewed existing customers in a corporate setting before taking a different tack, “To balance that out, we got out of the building to do intercept interviews in places like public universities and spaces, where we could reach a wider variety of people who were not already Nubank customers.”

Again, the point is to be shamelessly opportunistic. How often does that happen in your daily work life?

Opportunistic yes but open and humble as well. As Mazer Yamashita explains, “It was a group of unbelievably bright, but most of all humble people, who were completely open to learning and having their opinions challenged.” (emphasis Mazer Yahamshita’s)

Such humility helps avoid the feature trap (we must keep this feature because we’ve started coding) in favor of literally observing and listening to what your users actually need. Remember, users and customers don’t care about features; they want to accomplish a specific goal such as opening a new bank account, processing a Medicare application, or evaluating cell service providers.

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