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User experience academy

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User experience is a rapidly-growing field with more and more people doing, thinking, writing and talking about it.

Organisations are investing in it, universities and colleges are teaching it, exotic-sounding job titles are appearing, and there is an ever-expanding range of mysterious sounding acronyms connected to it - UX, UI, UE. With all this activity it has become difficult to pin down what ‘user experience’ actually means and why it’s worth doing - ironic given its core principle is to strip out complexity and make things easier for people.

With this in mind I decided to set up and run a three-day user experience academy within DLG Digital. The idea was to ‘de-mystify’ user experience design and equip people with the skills to start doing basic user testing. 

Ten people took part from across Digital: studio manager Chloe, designers Adam, Becci, Mark, Sarah and James, developers Olivia and Chris, and product owners Michelle and Charlotte. They got the chance to step outside of their roles for three days and immerse themselves in new and challenging ways of thinking.

Over the three days I broke the user experience process down into stages, and gave those that attended a thorough run-down of what it involves and how to do it. 

To begin with I went through the five factors that I see as defining how users experience things:

Evolution - how we’ve evolved to think in certain ways, and how our brains can often lead us astray.

Society - prevailing factors that influence us, like the economy and mainstream media.

Situational context - the circumstances that a user finds themselves in, e.g. running out of battery and needing something quickly.

Physical environment - where the user is, e.g. in a coffee shop, up a mountain or on a beach.

Personality - the character traits of individuals.

We then moved on to ‘creating the experience’, which breaks down into six parts. These form the basis of what a user experience architect actually does. They are:

  1. Creating the brief itself (meeting with stakeholders to understand what’s needed)
  2. Coming up with a test strategy to fit the brief
  3. Creating a prototype to test
  4. The testing itself
  5. Making sense of the results
  6. Writing up the recommendations

I wanted everyone to experience for themselves how to do some basic user testing, so I set them a brief. As insurance isn’t a subject seen by many as particularly inspiring, and because I felt people should open their minds and think in a completely different way, I chose a totally different subject to focus on - chocolate.

The brief was a fictional one from a real company - Maison Du Chocolat. It stated that they wanted to give customers the opportunity to design their own egg for Easter 2018, and then have it delivered to their home or local store. So, using all the information we’d gone through in the morning, everyone went away in teams of two or three and created a prototype. The focus was definitely on function over form. Good prototypes don’t have to be slick and polished, but they do have to allow you to get feedback on the areas you need to. The teams all produced great prototypes ranging from pen and paper sketches to lo-fi apps.

On day two, the teams finalised their prototypes and then went about finding 10 willing volunteers for testing. With a £20 budget to spend on incentives most opted for sweets and chocolates and had no trouble finding testers.

With user testing out of the way, we used the third day of the academy to look at how to digest the results and write them up.

Once the three days were over, the people that had been on the academy left equipped with the skills to take basic user testing back into their scrum teams. I was really pleased with the thinking and attention to detail people showed, which was reflected in the prototypes, as well as ideas about how to do testing, such as asking questions in a certain order to limit the amount of screens needed. It showed just how much people had picked up.

A real success story off the back of this is that Olivia from the home scrum team put her experience into practice and initiated user testing for the home quote journey. I’m hoping that a lot more people can now start to do this, because testing what customers actually do, rather than speculating or second guessing what they might do, can only help us make better design decisions.

The next step will be to encourage scrum teams to do more testing, and hopefully the academy has given people the confidence to go out there and do it. 

I loved running the academy and am really hoping to do more over the next few months and get as many people involved as possible.