Understanding the human hurdle we’re designing for is as much about inspiration as it is about learning. Design research often happens in small loops—gathering insights, building prototypes (sometimes on paper, sometimes physical objects)
, and gathering feedback—rather than in a slow, rigorous discovery phase.
Sometimes, we plan the research through role-playing
A swift and tangible way to test an experience or how it feels to use a product is to get into character and act it out. Our favorite way of uncovering the truth and planning our research journey is to put ourselves in a user’s shoes and go through the experience first-hand. For instance, to reconstruct the details of ordering a cup of coffee from Starbucks, we would go and experience the brand in every way possible—mobile ordering, drive-through, and in-store. It allows us to connect the dots of how customers feel during each experience and define the important elements of each event.
Walking in someone else’s shoes before we even meet them can also inform how we plan our research. On a recent project, the team needed to understand what online shoppers experienced when requesting a repair quote, so we went undercover, and secret shopped 231 locations. We captured the pain points of an average 9.5 hour response time and rough-looking email response that occasionally had spelling and grammatical errors. This experience helped us to focus on asking shop owners the right questions during our discovery phase.
Channeling our Inner child, our ears are sensitive to buzzwords.
A very wise man—Einstein—long ago reminded us that if you can’t explain something simply, you probably don’t understand it. Tapping into our inner child is the ultimate way to prove this out: If we don’t feel that a 9-year old can understand the concept or question, it usually leads us back to the drawing board.
Think about it this way, a 9-year old would call us out on our assumptions—happily and loudly—and would never allow esoteric phraseology (that last sentence is there for contrast). Getting critiqued by our inner child keeps us honest.
And sometimes, like kids, we are full of surprises
Kids see the world through a different set of lenses and value it with a different set of priorities. Being able to tap into that unique point of view helps us jumpstart creativity. Picture this, you invite us to a large internal meeting, and we want to establish a sense of play right from the start, so we bring in a kid—likely one of our own—and run a silly-face photo booth for the entire group, us included.
Now picture executives and professionals walking into the lobby, with a young kid dressed in bright colored clothes asking them to make the silliest face possible. Some would hesitate initially to relinquish their polished personal brand, but many couldn’t say no to a kid in a silly hat and a fresh pair of Chuck Taylors. Eventually, they would post for one, then two, and finally a handful while learning to let down their guard before the real work begins.
When a grown-up asks another grown-up to do something silly—allowing yourself to be vulnerable on the spot becomes difficult. However, when a kid slides in, the game changes. Vulnerability and playfulness generates vulnerability and playfulness—that’s where the diamonds are found.