This blog post is an introduction to Participatory Design (PD) and the methodologies that encompass PD. This is the first in a series of PD themed blog posts, so stay tuned for the next installment!
Participatory Design, User-Centered Design, and Human-Centered Design, all refer to methods which involve users and stakeholders during the iterative design process in hopes of meeting the wants, needs, and affordances of end-users. Participatory Design can be implemented in a variety of ways depending on what type of information the team is trying to capture– from design requirements to usability, the choice is yours.
Participatory Design was initially used in the design and development of computer applications and systems in Scandinavia and was referred to as Cooperative Design (Bødker et al., 2004). As the theory moved westward to the US, the term Participatory replaced Cooperative due to the nature of the first applications in business and the need to stress the vested interest of the participants.
The primary goal of PD is to help provide greater consideration and understanding of the needs and wants of system users. Participatory Design can be used to carefully integrate the needs, perspectives, and contexts of stakeholders, therefore, increasing the likelihood of diffusion, adoption, and impact of the resulting user-centered system.
For example, the design of a new mobile yellow page application created to target certain populations and connect users with providers. Wouldn’t it make sense to involve the end-users of this application from the onset of the project? Absolutely! Again, PD can be implemented in a variety of forms, for this example let’s assume we begin by asking our end-users to participate in a design needs session where the design team meets with end-users and fleshes out the necessary design requirements for the mobile app. From the beginning of the project, the users will have their voice heard and incorporated into the design of the final system.
Iterative Usability Testing is paramount to the success of any system, and this is another point where users can assist the design team in shaping the usability of the system. By conducting iterative usability tests, perhaps as short weekly lean UX sprints, the design team and engineers can quickly test and iterate the design of a new system- and be agile in the process.
IDEO has put together its own version of a ‘Human Centered Design Toolkit’. Check it out. Lots of cool techniques, tips, and more to get yourself in the HCD head space.
Remember: by incorporating your users feedback throughout the creation of your system, you are moving towards a better design and adopted system for all stakeholders.
Ask any UX designer or Human Factors researcher about their most memorable moments planning or running usability tests, and you’ll hear some real eye-openers. From challenging client relations, to logistical nightmares, to balky participants, planning and executing a successful usability study requires attention to detail, a deft personal touch, and a fair bit of improvisation in the face of the unexpected.
As a mid-career UX professional who has worked in the financial, healthcare, and medical device fields, I’m constantly thinking about ways to improve not only the quality and delivery of data from studies, but the overall process of planning and executing studies. While there is no single “right” way, there are certainly practices that can better the chances of a successful study.
Here are some useful pre- and post-study activities gathered from experience in the field. Some suggestions might be old hat to seasoned professionals, but if even one of them helps someone avoid stress, lost data or squandered time, sharing them will have been worth it.
It can be difficult for ever-busy UXers to step back and make time for the work necessary to interrogate how studies are planned, executed and reported. Yet, planning a short retrospective at the end of each project can ferret out potential areas for improvement that apply not only to the individual study, but to your UX practice as a whole. The devil is in the details, of course; capturing those findings and translating them into action is the real challenge. Subject your own processes to the analytic eye you would turn to a client’s product. Where can they be streamlined or improved?
Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?
Beyond the obvious calamities like no-show participants, minimizing potential problems in study execution comes from experience and the ability to recognize where problems are most likely to occur. If [BAD THING] happened, this session would be totally hosed. Particularly if you are a freelancer or working solo (hence no backup team), assessing the likelihood and impact of those BAD THINGS drives the planning that reduces the risk they will occur and reduces the severity when they do.
Repeat: Redundancy is good for you
Avoid depending solely on digital copies of critical documents. Make sure those digital copies are already downloaded to your laptop because WiFi is ubiquitous until it isn’t. Don’t assume you’ll have time to find a printer at a new study location. Bring paper copies – in particular, several copies of the protocol and discussion guide – organized and ready for quick retrieval.
Similarly, if you are testing material products and are responsible for transporting them to the site, have a teammate bring extra in case of lost or stolen luggage, or a fatigue-induced failure to pack. Consider whether mailing them in advance, with tracking, is an option.
Setting it up
Market research facilities
Know the site coordinator.
Make it crystal clear what front desk staff are responsible for, and assume there will be several shift changes over the day, and that your requirements may not survive the inevitable game of telephone.
For anything more complex than registering and compensating participants, provide the front desk with a clear step-by-step description of who gets what and when. This is particularly helpful if you have multiple Informed Consent Forms for different participant groups, or situations where some participants might return for follow-up sessions while others won’t.
In the field
Know your field site. If at all possible, take a walkthrough before your session to familiarize yourself with where things are, and any potential distractions or complications (discovering you’re on a bus route or in a WiFi deadzone, etc.)
If you’re going to be outside, have a fallback plan for inclement weather or an overly noisy environment.
Ensure all devices are fully charged before study start. Always have a backup battery or SD card for any devices you are using.
Check your recording devices. If you’re at a market research facility, check whether some camera adjustment is necessary for the best possible view of the participant.
If you are the one with the recording devices or software, ensure you and your team (if you have one) know how they work. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering after the fact that your session audio wasn’t recorded because someone forgot to press a button. Use sticky note prompts if necessary (you laugh, but it works.)
If you’re a solo practitioner running a study, a Livescribe pen that records audio is a great addition to your note-taking arsenal, because it’s much easier to find a particular sound bite in your notes.
Mise en place. A French culinary term that means “put in place,” it’s also an extremely useful tactic to minimize scrambling during study execution. Establish specific locations for critical assets and communicate where they are found. At a facility, lay materials out on a table. If you’re on the go, organize your bag so you know where everything is without fumbling around.
For printed or physical assets, sticky notes make great place labels so your team isn’t forced to rely on memory over a long day. Protocols are here, study guides are there, moderator checklists are over there.
Separate blank materials from anything participants have filled out.
Breaking it down
Tips for when the study is over:
If any assets are to be shipped back to clients or the office, have necessary contact and address information ready.
If you have more than a few items in a box, create a shipping manifesto, and crosscheck before sealing.
Double-check that any forms or physical media have been collected from site staff, and that any digital media has been transferred to portable form, where applicable.
While some of these activities are more relevant to studies involving physical products, most are broadly applicable to usability studies in general. Whether standardized in checklists or simply incorporated into routine practice, these simple organizational activities can help ensure a resilient and successful study.
Love your job? Chances are if you work in UX, you do.
My recent trip to UXPA 2014 offered me more than the opportunity try authentic Fish & Chips. It gave me great insights to the UX industry and as it turns out, great perspective on the people that make up the industry. Perhaps the most interesting aspect was the consistently, inconsistent career & educational backgrounds of UX professionals. After nearly a dozen conversations that described incredibly diverse paths to their current role, I decided this warranted a closer look. After some digging it turns out that not only are UX professionals incredibly diverse in their educational backgrounds, but their career satisfaction ratings were noticeably high¹. In order to understand why our colleagues were rating their job satisfaction so highly, I decided to first look at the characteristics of successful researchers. I wondered how current growth within the industry and optimism on future developments within their profession shaped their feelings towards their job.
In order to answer these questions I first looked at the qualities that make up professional UX research associate. I asked participants at UXPA2014, employees within Key Lime Interactive and colleagues across the industry to chip in. I received some pretty interesting opinions. Most success stories were based on educational backgrounds. Some of the responses described researchers as having “solid computer programming skills, a background in Anthropology or Psychology and some exposure to Human Factors training.”
To test the validity of these statements, and in true UX fashion, I conducted some ethnographic studies on some unsuspecting colleagues and UXPA2014 delegates. Knowing their education background and comparing it to the “suggested educational paths” would allow me to determine if it was their training or other inherent qualities that make great researchers. It turns out that only about half of the participants I observed were trained in the previously mentioned disciplines. So what was the common thread between the greater population? It seems that at the heart of almost all UX professionals lies a naturally inquisitive spirit, the willingness to pursue a career of lifelong learning and excellent communication skills.
Armed with this information I wondered how such a diverse group of men and women would describe their job satisfaction. Would they express optimism towards the future of their industry? According to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, UX professionals rank their job satisfaction a 5.4² on a Likert scale. They also ranked pay/benefits satisfaction as a 5.2³. But does earnings truly correlate to higher job satisfaction? Harvard Business Review author Tomas C. Premuzic argues that “there is less than a 2% overlap between individuals pay and pay satisfaction”⁴. This leads us to infer that job satisfaction and satisfaction of pay are independent of each other. So what other factors could be driving the overall satisfaction from such a diverse pool of workers? Nielsen researchers noted that after polling over 1,000 UX professionals, the core activities of a UX researcher included: presenting solutions/concepts, persuading others and critically analyzing tasks or activities, which strongly correlates to the qualities observed during my impromptu ethnographic study.
As a whole, the UX industry finds itself in a period of tremendous growth. With more than half of all UX professionals living in the United States⁵, other markets will soon look to qualified professionals for expertise and guidance. So ask yourself this, do you feel well-rewarded and highly valued? Do you see your work as being intrinsically good for humanity? Do you enjoy being engaged and being able to use many of your skills on a daily basis? Then smile, you are probably a UX professional.
1. Nielsen, Jakob, and Susan Farrell. “User Experience Careers.” User Experience Careers. 2013. Web.
2. Nielsen, Jakob, and Susan Farrell. “User Experience Careers.” User Experience Careers. 2013. Web.
3. Nielsen, Jakob, and Susan Farrell. “User Experience Careers.” User Experience Careers. 2013. Web.
4. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. “Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research.” Does Money Really Affect Motivation. Harvard Business Review, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Aug. 2014.
5. Nielsen, Jakob, and Susan Farrell. “User Experience Careers.” User Experience Careers. 2013. Web.