User experience research is considered an indispensable part of . It helps understand users beyond numbers and data-points to behaviours and context, needs and stories. It makes the user that the product built would benefit the user.

Unfortunately, instead of user research being an integral part of the product cycle, it is many a time, put off for a later time due to restriction in time or budget. There also might be reluctance from the stakeholders to conduct research. They might feel that they know the best for the product. But at the end of the day, they are not the user.

User researchers need to make sure that the stakeholders gain for their end users. Design is one such method to create empathy in the team.

Design Jams are design focussed innovation event to help brainstorm the best ideas based on the user’s needs and that fulfil the business goals

The design jam has 3 main ingredients:

  1. User need: As the aim is to generate empathy, an existing user need works well as there would already be supporting data from the field
  2. Stakeholders: Invite people from various teams (product, design, research, business, engineering) who are involved in the projects and also a few who are not as this fuels in generating a range of ideas.
  3. Space to co-create: A big wide room with walls to put up ideas

There are multiple ways to design a jam. Following I have mentioned a list of steps that I have tried and tested and works quite well in a corporate environment.

Step 1: Ice-breaker & Lightning talk

As you have participants from various teams joining in, it might take some time for them to open up. This is crucial for having unbiased ideas. Ice-breaker works well for it. My favourite ice-breaker is ‘I am late because…’

It’s quite easy to execute and is a classic Design Thinking stoke. This activity helps to get the team up and running.
Everyone stands in a circle. Someone starts with ‘I am late because…’ and ends it with the plot of a well-known movie. Everyone else tries to guess the movie’s name. And then you go round the circle and continue the game.

Follow this activity up with a lightning talk. Lightning talk would usually have an insight from your user research that you want to brainstorm on. Along with the insight include a few user-stories in terms of verbatim and videos. This helps to get the participants up to speed with that insight and also generate empathy with the users regarding the same.

Step 2: How might we?

Then you start with ‘How might we?’ exercise, an ideation strategy helps one think about ways to address the user problems identified in the user research.
You start by looking at the insight and rephrase it to ‘How might we’ in the beginning.

For e.g. if the insight is ‘Users prefer to shop offline as look and feel is very important’, you make it to ‘How might we replicate the comfort of offline shopping online?’

It’s easier to start with an example as the participants may or may know about this technique. The aim is to generate several ‘How might we?’s. To generate multiple, what I like to do is associate the statements with a quality that you think is important for the project.

For e.g. ‘How might we replicate the comfort of offline shopping online by informing the user?’
‘How might we replicate the comfort of offline shopping online by organising the content better?’

This will provide you with dozens of sticky notes and half-formed ideas. The next step is to identify the strongest question. Hence you group each around a theme and vote top three silently by putting dots on them. Once voted, focus on the top 3 How Might We questions.

Step 3: Idea Generation

Post the ‘How Might We?’ questions get down to idea generation. The main aim of this activity is to generate as many ideas as you can. Therefore have sketching sessions for it. There can be multiple ways to do it, some of them are:

    In SCAMPER’s each letter stands for an action which is a prompt for creative ideas.
    S — Substitute
    C — Combine
    A — Adapt
    M — Modify
    P — Put to another use
    E — Eliminate
    R — Reverse
  2. Mindmapping:
    Mindmapping is connecting different pieces of information in a graphical way. In this, each fact or data is written down and connected by lines, a web of relationships.
  3. Six Thinking Hats:
    The aim is putting yourself in the user’s shoes. This method helps to segregating ideas into 6 thinking ways. Each hat has a unique role and focus. It helps to look at the problem from different perspectives.

4. Alter-Egos:
For this exercise, divide the participants into smaller groups and ask them to name a leader for their group that may be fictional or non-fictional. Now ask them to look at the problem from that person’s perspective.

For e.g., What would Steve Jobs do to replicate the comfort of offline shopping online?
What would Superman do to replicate the comfort of offline shopping online?

Step 5: Vote

Once the ideas are generated, place each one on a 2*2 matrix: Complexity of the idea vs boring-delightful. Then vote top three silently by putting dots on them. Once voted, focus on the top 5 winning ideas.

Step 4: Creating a story

Post that those 5 ideas are then represented in a story format by storyboarding. Storyboarding is a tool using which you visually predict user’s journey and experience with a product.

Stories are an easy, effective and inexpensive method to relate, explore and empathise user’s experience. It helps to bring a more human-centered design approach where one can walk in the shoes of the user. It also brings teams together to understand what is being designed.

Step 5: Idea Analysis

Once you have the stories and narratives are prepared again place each on a place each one on a 2*2 matrix: Business goals vs User Impact. This ensures that the ideas generated are a fit both for the company goals and the users. There is no number to select here as the ones who fit both the users and the business needs can be selected.

Further Steps:

Once you have the ideas, you can run a concept testing or a prototype testing based on your product roadmap. This will validate if the idea is usable or not. Based on the user feedback, you can tweak it and you are good to go.

Key Outcomes:

Ideas evolve and spin-off when given attention. However, it needs the thinkers to be together in a room. Even if it is just a brainstorming session, you would have a ton of ideas that would have gone that may not have arrived unless organising the jam. You would be designing ideas with more thought of the user’s needs and fidelity.

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