Why validating your service with real users matters
Design
30-03-2022
Sanni Karlsson

Why validating your service with real users matters

Human beings are complex and unpredictable creatures. That's why it is pivotal for designers to collect insights from real users. UX designer Sanni shares stories of moments that truly opened her eyes to this.

Engaging the users is an important part of user-centric design. It often means creating a prototype of the service and asking users to test it in an environment that closely resembles a real-life situation.

The aim is to learn how they feel when they perform certain tasks. Does it match your assumptions? And all this time when we create services to these people, do we actually know them at all?

One way to learn about our users is to create what are called user personas – imagined people with personality traits, needs and worries. With this method, we can create empathic connection to the users, which helps us put ourselves into their shoes when making decisions.

Even though user personas are an effective tool, they can also be inconsistent, causing unintended bias and sometimes leading to stereotypical representation of people. This is due to the fact that real human beings are always more complex and unpredictable. I've learned this the hard way. This one time, while conducting research for a digital service we were creating, I was preparing myself to have a user interview with a student. I realised that in my mind, I had built up an expectation of meeting up with an eager person who'd volunteered to share insights of the student life during a lunch break.

The more I involve myself in these meetings, the more I'm being reminded of the importance of sensitivity. As human beings, we have anxious reactions, shifting frustration levels and neurological differences, and countless other factors that contribute to the way we interact with the world.

It was then surprising to find out that I encountered a person who was extremely stressed due to thesis hustle, frustrated at the school system and hungry because they'd not had time to have lunch. On top of all this, the internet connection was constantly breaking up, causing major annoyance for the interviewee.

Had I based my assumptions and design decisions on the persona I'd created in my head instead of this colourful character I actually met, I'd have missed the situational aspects that impacted their experience with the service. This seemingly unfocused interview with emotional twists and turns turned out to be valuable in terms of learning. This is because in real life, we can't expect the users to have 100% focus on our service.

The more I involve myself in these meetings, the more I'm being reminded of the importance of sensitivity. As human beings, we have anxious reactions, shifting frustration levels and neurological differences, and countless other factors that contribute to the way we interact with the world.

On a personal level, I felt moved by a project I was involved with a while ago. We were launching a new interviewing and co-design culture to a company where the employees had not previously been engaged in service design. I went to conduct an interview, expecting them to be excited to share the silent knowledge they'd accumulated throughout their time there. Instead, they were short-spoken and visibly restrained, and only seemed to want to share the positive insights to us.

However, after a series of get-togethers with one of the employees, we've now finally managed to build a friendly and trusting friendship. We can laugh and make jokes while discussing the project within a safe space. These types of genuine connections with the users have been the most rewarding moments in my professional life. They are also something that can only rarely achieve with just video calls. Face-to-face human contact matters a lot, especially now that we still mostly work from a distance to each other.

It's not just designers who can benefit from these experiences. Once, we organised a live demo session where we asked the project's developers to come and observe it. The developers told us that the session was eye-opening and helped them understand the design decisions much better. This is often something they don't frequently get to do.

My biggest learning regarding this topic has been to never dismiss the real-life human aspect. More often than not, we think we know others better than we actually do.

The session also had the added benefit of boosting team motivation. From that point on, our common goal of helping this specific group of users became more clear. By involving the whole team with the users, we are creating an even deeper understanding.

So, where does all this lead us?

It's clear that people are diverse, unpredictable and prone to be affected by the situation and the environment. When building digital products, the whole team benefits from stepping in the real users' shoes every now and then.

My biggest learning regarding this topic has been to never dismiss the real-life human aspect. More often than not, we think we know others better than we actually do. As a work model for design teams, I'd suggest finding a balance between the internal service design work and maintaining contact with the users. The more we share together, the better we understand each other and are able to bring valuable insights to the project.

Sanni Karlsson

A designer who’s a big fan of discussing emotions and user experiences, both together and separately. When not doing anything design-related, Sanni divides her free time between participating in a sewing club and sailing.

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Sanni Karlsson

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