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How an experience designer uses insight

I've recently returned from a trip to Australia, where I was lucky enough to catch up with some talented designers and user researchers from the service and experience design community. The conversations gave me some fascinating perspectives on the similarities and differences of how qualitative research and human insight is applied in service design versus how consumer insight and market research work with it.

It's something I wanted to share here.

It started with a long-standing friend of Further, Gabrielle Allfrey, PwC's Manager of Experience Design, in Sydney.

Gabrielle_AllfrayHow do you describe your current role?

My current role is very diverse, I would describe myself as an experience designer. That means that I work with clients to help them design products and services which meet and exceed their customers' expectations. It involves working across strategy, insights, design and enablement and taking clients on a journey from when an idea is first born, then developing that idea into something tangible and then going to trial. 

What kind or style of research do you do regularly? 

I do a lot of 'in home' one-on-one interviews, particularly in the early stages of a project. They are such a great way of getting to understand customers and their environments really quickly . I also do a lot of fast online user testing and online forums in the later stages of research, where we are iterating our designs and need fast feedback from customers. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work with clients?

Because my clients aren't research buyers I'm finding increasingly that they want my team to leverage existing research rather than conduct our own primary research. There are two things driving this. The first, is the expectation that research has to take a long time and is expensive, which can be true of a lot of research. To address this we talk about 'minimum viable research' and design an approach that is agile and focused on a specific goal. Using this technique, we have successfully designed products in five days and managed to speak to 20 customers over those five days to verify our results. The second thing driving this is the idea that once you have interviewed some customers you have learnt everything you need to know. I think that a review of previous research should always be a part of a project, but for experience design you are focused on creating a particular product or service, so it's important to understand the specific behaviours and needs in that context - previous research will never give you the focus you need. 

What advice would you give anyone coming into your role afresh?

A big thing for me, coming into design after five years in a pure research role, was learning to go with the flow and not be prescriptive about what research needed to be. I had to focus more on the end result and the best way of getting there. If you set your expectations aside and look at the problem in front of you and see research as a part of the solution you'll enjoy the process a lot more and be surprised at what you can achieve and learn in a short space of time. 

What research trends are you observing or experiencing right now?

The main thing I am seeing is that research is being democratised. Human Centred Design is increasingly becoming a way of working in companies and is no longer a specialised skill set. Therefore a lot of my work involves training teams or coaching individuals to conduct design research. It's amazing to see because it means that more and more companies are designing experiences with their customers at the centre of it. It also means that as a consultant, the value I bring to an organisation is evolving. Projects that I was delivering six months ago are now being delivered by people I trained who had no previous research experience. This enables me to focus on more complex problems and coaching. 

What does the term 'Human Insight' mean to you?

It is something that you have learnt that helps you better understand the behaviour needs and preferences of humans.

How have you worked with Further?

I have worked with Further for my entire career. Further has been such an invaluable resource in each of the jobs I've had. Most recently, I used Further's Together platform over four weeks to test build and develop three different products at the same time. We were working in an agile team, which can be a challenge when you are conducting research, but the platform allowed us to have really quick turn around and make decisions overnight. The developers and UX designers I was working with could all be on the forum moderating and making tweaks to the product on the fly. 

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