If you work for an agency or a software house, you deal with a lot of different clients on a daily basis. Some of them like to be engaged in the and take an active part in it, and some of them prefer to outsource the work and get the expected results. No matter which are you dealing with, I believe they should be involved in the whenever it’s possible, and always encouraged to do so.

Why involving the client?

Encouraging the client to be actively engaged in the design or research process has many invaluable benefits. First of all, usually the client has knowledge that can contribute to the project a lot. The briefs themselves, or even ordinary meetings, will often not allow you to explore the subject deep enough to have the same knowledge as people with years of experience in a given field.

Engaging the stakeholders will also help you to better understand and address their needs during the project. Working out together with the client hypotheses and research questions or conducting design workshops enables you to deepen your understanding of the project’s objectives and the expected results.

Workshops — discovery stage

A great way to the stakeholder is to run one or several workshops — depending on the time the client has. Workshops are a method that allows everything I mentioned above. They can be used to understand the needs of stakeholders better, get the necessary knowledge, work out ideas and solutions together, analyze information or present research results in an interesting and engaging way. Workshops, contrary to what you may think, do not have to be time-consuming. If the client is busy and does not have a whole day, you can always adjust your methods and limit the length of the workshop to, for example, 2–3 hours. This method will usually achieve much more than a typical meeting.

1. Workshop to understand the client’s needs

A well-designed brief will allow us to understand the overall objectives of the project but is not enough to deeply recognize the client’s needs. Thanks to workshops, we can learn things that have not been said at the beginning. Our task as designers or researchers is to always “dig deeper.” This principle should be applied not only to end users, but also when starting a new project with a client. We should make sure that we address his most important needs and understand what is expected of us.

It often happens that a typical meeting will not answer all of our questions. Sometimes the client himself is not quite sure about what he wants. This may result in projects in which a lot of corrections are made, or from which the client is not completely satisfied. However, if we try to identify his needs with different techniques (not only conversations or emails), we have a bigger chance to avoid such problems.

This applies not only to design projects, but also to research that we want to conduct for the client. We have limited time during interviews or tests. Therefore it is crucial to ask those people the right questions, which in the end will help your client to achieve his goal (e.g. to better understand the target group, redesign a website or create a new solution).

Such workshops should include the most important stakeholders. They do not necessarily have to be department or company directors. For example, if we are designing a new page that is to attract new customers, it would be worth to invite someone from the marketing department. In the end, the website will largely meet the needs of this department. Therefore, we should choose the participants of the workshop carefully. Of course it‘s not always possible to fully meet the needs of all stakeholders. However, we must at least try to meet the needs of the most important and decisive ones.

Such workshops can include a variety of techniques which are tailored to the purpose of the workshop. If we want to discover how a client wants to create his brand — use ready-made branding cards (or make your own!). If your task is to prioritize task in the process — use the MOSCOW method. The possibilities are endless as we can always create our own techniques for the needs of the workshops.

Advantages:

  • Workshops may take less time than conducting separate interviews with each of the project’s stakeholders.
  • During the workshop, it may turn out that some stakeholders have conflicting goals. We can work out a compromise in a skilful manner, which will allow us to start the project seamlessly and avoid possible problems in the future.
  • Gathering many people with different perspectives in the same room generates discussion about goals and their hierarchy. The dynamics of the group also allow you to bring up topics that might not appear in individual interviews.

Suggested techniques: Branding cards(e.g. Brand Deck), stakeholders map, MOSCOW technique.

Read more: Understanding Stakeholders Through Research

2. Sharing knowledge

Workshops can also help you to understand the client’s industry better. In that way, we can use client’s knowledge and draw information about the target group, typical user paths, pain points or other things that will be useful at a later stage of the project.

Information we will obtain during workshops depend on the techniques we will use and the people we will invite. For that reason it is worth to invite people from various departments. Each of them has a different perspective on the end customers and deals with different problems. For example, a person working in the technical department will be more familiar with the problems that occur on the product side. And the person in the marketing department will know which target group is the most attractive for the company. Understanding all these different perspectives will help you to better understand the end users and thus better answer their needs and problems.

It is worth working together on a persona, a customer journey, or just mapping the most common user paths — everything that will help you to better understand the target group and its problems.

Advantages:

  • An in-depth understanding of the end-user and his pain points, as seen from different perspectives in the client’s company.
  • Gaining knowledge, which could otherwise take a lot more time to gather.
  • Engaging different departments that might otherwise not be heard.

Suggested techniques: Personas, Customer Journey Map, scenario mapping, empathy map, user stories, Service Blueprint, Business Model Canvas etc.

3. Stakeholders interviews

If we are dealing with a client that is very busy and is not able to devote the time of several people to the workshop, but we want to get as much knowledge as we can, we may do it in a different way. The good solution here is to conduct interviews with stakeholders. Interviews time can be adjusted to the availability of a given person. It also allows us to talk to every or most of the stakeholders, which is not always possible with the workshops.

First, you have to identify project stakeholders. Remember that these are not always the most obvious people, such as directors or project managers. Stakeholders will often include people from various departments, such as advertising, marketing, call centers or technical departments. You should do an early research and prepare a map of stakeholders to make sure everyone is included.

The next step is to arrange the interviews. They can last either 15 minutes or an hour, but they are always worth doing. Through these conversations, you’ll need to find out what is the role of this person in the project, what is their vision of the product (if you’re designing something) and what they consider as the most important. You should also get to know their perspective on end users. What contact they have with them, what problems they recognize, who they think is the most important target group. Your questions should always be adapted to the position your interviewee represents. You should ask different questions a person from the marketing department and an IT director.

Advantages:

  • Defining and understanding needs and goals of different stakeholders
  • The opportunity to reach a large number of people
  • Less time consuming than workshops

Suggested techniques: Stakeholders map, interview questions.

Read more:

A Stakeholder Interview Checklist

Conducting an effective stakeholder interview

Research process

Customer wants you to do research — verify his ideas, test a designed interface, understand the needs of the users? There will be plenty of opportunities to involve the client in the research process. It is worth doing so to provide the client with the knowledge he really needs, which in the end will help him to better achieve his goal (e.g. creating a product tailored to the needs of the target group). Beware of conducting research in which the only role of your client is to listen to the report with your recommendations. Include the client in the process — let him help you to create research questions, note important observations, or just actively propose ideas based on the research results.

1. Working together on questions and hypotheses for research

When a client asks you to conduct, for example, usability tests, his purpose is often to learn about strengths and weaknesses of his product. This is a good goal, but quite general. If the client does not specify what he really cares about or why the idea for the test in the beginning, it is worth finding out. However, simply asking “What areas of the product are you most interested in?” will not always give you the answer you need. In this case it’s a good idea to conduct a short workshop with the client. On the workshop you can work out together hypotheses and research questions, and determine the importance of each of them. You have a limited time, so you won’t be able to find out everything, but it should help you to prioritize things.

It is worth starting the workshop by determining what knowledge the client has at the moment. It can include already observed problems with an interface or client’s assumptions regarding the needs of his users. All these thoughts can be noted on sticky notes and placed in a visible spot. The next step is to ask as many questions as possible regarding each pain point , e.g. “Why do you think users are leaving the site at this moment?”, “Do users know where to find information about the costs?”. These questions should also be supplemented by client’s hypotheses , e.g. “Users do not complete the form to the end, because it is too long.” The last task should be to prioritize the problem areas. You can set the scale by yourself, but make sure everyone understands it the same way. Emphasize that the problems’ priority should be rated from the client’s (business) perspective, not the user’s. You are not able to determine at this stage which problems may be critical for users, while the hierarchy created by the client will help you choose the areas on which you should focus during your research. Business goals are important because ultimately they are the reason for research you’ve been hired to do.

Advantages:

  • Understanding client’s business goals related to research
  • Focusing on the most important areas when creating a research scenario
  • Providing the client with the most important knowledge from the business perspective

Suggested techniques: scenario mapping, MOSCOW, customer journey map, Google Analytics/Hotjar/Mixpanel data

Read more: 20 Product Prioritization Techniques: A Map and Guided Tour

2. Observing research sessions

Don’t even get me started on why the client should be present during tests with users . You can read about it here and send this article to the client if he does not want to do it [be brave!].

Observing research, especially seeing how users use our product, is very interesting and engaging at first. However, after 2–3 interviews someone can have enough, and research often lasts all day long. In the company where I worked before, we often dealt with very persistent clients who sat in our observatory from morning until the end of the study (about 8 hours). Being focused for so long is extremely tiring. That’s why you should make it easier for the client (so he doesn’t sleep behind the glass) and engage him in active research observation. The cool method is the one described in the book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. The only thing you need are post-its in 3 different colors. You should explain to the client before the research sessions: “If you hear or see something interesting, write it on a piece of paper. You can write quotes, observations or your interpretations of what has happened.” Choose a different color for positive, negative and neutral observations. You can also attach to a wall descriptions of several categories, for example, Questions to Explore, Observations, Ideas, etc., and ask the client to put the notes in the right places.

After research sessions, discuss together with the client your observations and look for recurring patterns. Mark them as positive, neutral or negative. Thanks to this simple method important research observations are noted during the research and nothing important will be omitted (and the client will not fall asleep behind the glass in the observatory).

Advantages:

  • Building client’s engagement by encouraging him to actively participate in research observation
  • Noting observations that are important from the client’s perspective
  • Looking for recurring user behavior patterns along with a client

Suggested techniques: Google Sprint methodology, Post-its.

3. Workshop for presenting a research report.

Workshops are also a great alternative to the usual, boring presentation of the research report. Engaging client in a more interesting way of presenting your findings will make it not only more memorable, but also more actionable. Usually handing off a report to a client and not helping him generate some ideas or solutions from it will result in your 100 pages report covering slowly in dust.

I have used this technique like this: before the workshop, our researcher reminded everyone of the most important research results (the report was sent earlier to the client). She emphasized on common user paths in the product and she reminded everyone of the most important problem areas and user needs that appeared in the research sessions. After that, people from the client side were divided into teams. It’s better if there are many participants (10–15), but if it’s impossible, then one team will also be enough. Each team prepared a different persona based on the research report. It was important to write out the needs and goals of these people. The final step was a short Design Studio — a quick design session based on iterations. After each iteration, the team presented their idea to others, followed by a short discussion and design critique from the audience. In the next iteration everyone had an opportunity to rethink and redesign their ideas.

This simple technique made the team to generate many cool ideas for improving the existing product. Using workshops instead of a presentation resulted in the knowledge from research being evenly distributed to every person in the client’s team. It also made it easier to understand and remember the most important research findings in a pleasant form.

Advantages:

  • An engaging way to pass research results, ensuring equal distribution of knowledge
  • Using the report to generate ideas that will help the client’s team to start design work with some already developed concepts and solutions
  • The research report is not treated as a boring document that will be read by only few people

Suggested techniques: Personas (or proto-personas), scenario mapping, design studio, user stories, user flow, empathy map, Customer Journey Map, Value Proposition, Service Blueprint.

Designing together

Just because you or your team are the design experts it doesn’t mean that the client will not have some great ideas too. He knows his product and the industry best. It is worth using this knowledge when generating ideas. Of course it doesn’t mean that you should give away the design work to the client. It’s about understanding that many of his ideas can bring real value to the project, which we, as designers, can use.

1. Design studio

Two hours are more than enough to generate a lot of ideas for further work. Use this time sensibly and try to engage the client as well. Even if he thinks he can’t draw and design — it’s not true! Everyone is able to draw a few squares, lines and circles, and that’s how rough mock-ups usually look like. Convince the client that it’s not about creating pixel-perfect designs but to share and discuss different ideas.

The technique is simple. The Design Studio usually consists of several iterations, in which participants design solutions for a problem. They have little time for every iteration, because it is not about perfecting the concept, but about generating many ideas in a short time. It is important to clearly set the design studio goal. It can’t be too general, e.g. “Let’s redesign our website completely”. It’s better to focus on a specific area, e.g. “Redesigning the shopping cart on the website”.

Designing can be done individually or in teams. We always started with 1–3 individual iterations and then one or two group iterations (2–6 people per team). If the participants design individually — give them about 5 minutes for that. If in groups — 10–15 minutes. After each iteration, it’s time to present the ideas — 1 minute per person. When everyone presented their solutions, it’s time for questions and discussion. Criticism must be constructive and focused on the proposed solution. Encourage people to say things like “Why did you solve it this way?”, “I think your idea for a calendar is very cool, but I would think about …”. In the next iteration everyone has time to make changes in their design based on the previous discussions. Stealing others’ ideas is also cool!

Remember to watch time during every iteration. When the appointed time has passed, the participants should stop working. They will have time to refine their ideas in the next iteration.

Design studio agenda — an example

[10 people divided into 2 teams]

  1. Setting a design studio goal, e.g. “Improve the first step of the checkout process on our site.”
  2. Individual work— 5 minutes
  3. Presenting ideas within the team — 1 minute per person
  4. Discussion and design critique — 1–2 minutes per idea
  5. Second iteration — individual or in pairs — 5 minutes
  6. Presenting ideas, discussion, critique — same amount of time as above
  7. Group iteration — 15 minutes
  8. Teams presenting their ideas to the other group — 3 minutes per group
  9. Discussion and design critique — 5 minutes per idea
  10. Second group iteration, presentation and summary

Advantages:

  • Quickly generating many ideas for a solution together with the client
  • Ability to use client’s knowledge and experience
  • Engaging a whole team in a short amount of time

Suggested techniques: Design studio + discovery materials (e.g. personas, a brief).

Read more: Design Studios: The Good, the Bad, and the Science

To sum up…

Involving the client in the design and research process is always very valuable. The client usually has much more knowledge about his company and product than you do, so it is worth using this knowledge as much as you can. Client’s engagement also allows you to make sure that you understand business needs and constraints well, and that you deliver real value for him.

Engaging the client using workshops will work at every stage of the process — during discovery, research and design. However, it is also worth creating your own methods, which you can adapt to the client’s time and his willingness to participate in the project.



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