The quest for a better understanding of users leads companies into the realms of emotions and social behaviours.
Finally, the user is taking centre stage and suddenly people are important for everybody. Over the last decade, even as progressive companies were talking about the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the needs and behaviour of their users, they were brought in to be studied, rather like exotic animals, as they played around with products in the final stages of development.
“Companies were spending, are in fact still spending, lots of money to very little effect when they bring in users to check if the product was fine or not. It’s so much more expensive to make changes to a product when its development is almost complete – which means, apart from that obvious disadvantage, that it is far less likely that changes will actually be made. The user needs to be involved early in the development process, where ideas are being conceptualised. Right now we can see companies that are beginning to come to terms with this,” says Maritza Guaderrama, managing partner, Designit Madrid.
There are several reasons why companies are beginning to understand the immense potential associated with studying their users’ experiences. One, of course, is competition. The struggle to gain competitive advantage leads progressive companies on the quest for that deeper understanding. In Maritza Guaderrama’s opinion there are more complex drivers at play, however.
“There is nothing new about looking at the users’ needs and experiences when it comes to something like biomechanics. If you want to design a comfortable chair, you have to know about the dimensions of the human body. Now, however, we are witnessing the emergence of a far more nuanced understanding of the human condition. Users become more human in the sense that sensorial and psychological dimensions are becoming more important,” says Maritza Guaderrama.
This has significant consequences for companies, of course. In your average major company the study of the user has been fragmented, isolated and buried in different departments. Now that might make way for a more holistic approach, thus enabling the different departments to benefit from each other’s insights.
“Step by step companies are realising that people can and should be seen from many angles, each contributing to the common understanding. There is no single part of a company, which can rightfully ignore the users’ experience with the company’s product or service. The customer is the point where all the ambitions of the company converge,” says Maritza Guaderrama.
Another key point in this emerging understanding of the importance of design research is the blurring of the distinction between users and producers. Once users become recognised for their potential in co-creating processes, sharing and contributing their insights, it becomes obvious that their experiences must be cherished and led to play a key role in any development process. There are limits to design research, however, and it is equally important to understand those limits.
“Users are not, in general, designers. The outcome of processes, where companies investigate the needs and desires of users, must be understood as not a final outcome, but as a metaphor of their desires. The process from those insights and to the final design is professional and is more of a translation, albeit not a literal one. The insights are symbols, which can be translated, by designers and researchers, into the final product or service,” says Maritza Guaderrama.
One of our most prominent features as human beings is our desire to make sense of the world around us. That’s perhaps how we differ most significantly from other mammals. Everything we do has to make sense.
“As users we are always looking for how and why certain products or services are meaningful for us and for our social groups, because if they don’t make sense, they’re wrong. Designers and researchers are symbol analysts, trying to understand how people make sense of the world. It used to be that marketers dealt with the symbolic aspects of products and services in ads and campaigns. They still do, but to some extent it’s fake in the sense that the product’s features do not drive it. The process, which is undertaken in order to develop a product or service in correspondence with the needs and desires of users and based on their experiences, in contrast, is genuine,” says Maritza Guaderrama.
I am a self-taught multi-disciplinary designer & developer. I’m passionate about making the best experience possible for people. Especially in UI and UX design. I also do Art directing and Visual identity. If you’re a startup, a private or public company, or freelance, don’t hesitate to contact me, i’ll enjoy to talk to you !
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