Improving UX: Diversify your user research

Just recently I’ve completed a UI redesign for a client’s existing application. The app is part of a bigger solution used at warehouse floors for picking orders. Throughout the years the application has grown with multiple customisations and fixes. When a customer opted for a new feature that was incompatible with this legacy and the UI, it became clear to the client that an overhaul was needed.

As the designer for this project, the assignment for me was two-fold: Develop a UI that is flexible enough for customer-specific functionality, and create a clear interface that is usable for new users with as little explanation as possible while maintaining a low error-rate regarding picking. Our client already had some good ideas on the new app but I suggested to go into the field as well: How is the existing solution used and what do its users think about it?

I hopped in a car with a sales rep to one of their long-term customers to gain these insights. Observing the users and the picking process was definitely helpful to understand the context better and see what is relevant in the app. However, the pickers worked lightning fast and had low error-rates, and even after talking to them, I only got one true issue with the current solution: An often-used button was so small that while working fast, it required an annoyingly slow and precise press by the picker, disrupting their flow.

This is a crucial moment in the design process. Are you satisfied with your research? Visiting one customer and observing several end-users is in the end still n=1. Things like their picking process and their company culture determine a lot about what is observed during a visit, and are obviously very different at another company. It is always a good idea to have more observations to get a better sense of the product or service, and it is best to make sure the next customer or end-user differs enough from the first to cover the whole spectrum of the product’s users.

In this case, the long-term customer had embraced the solution a long time ago, embedded it completely in their way of working and worked around problems they’d totally forgot about by now.

So, the sales rep and I visited a second customer that was the opposite of this customer. Instead of being familiar with the solution, having permanent employees and running the warehouse for their own online shops, the second customer just started with this picking solution, they hired temporary workers and offered the warehouse services solely to other online shops.

This second visit resulted in a very different afternoon. Being new to the app, they had several remarks and even suggestions for improving it. Not only did this visit confirm the necessity of the redesign as well, it also provided sufficient insights to make sure the new app would fit the domain and the use cases.

For me, and likely most designers, starting the creative process with users, observations and tests is necessary to ground the solution in reality – to create a satisfying product or service that offers true improvement and fulfils a need.
The experience of the above-mentioned project shows that context makes all the difference. Select a diverse range of users for your research: Don’t stick to one observation, you’re likely to miss out on a lot of insights for making a truly great product.

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