What we talk about when we talk about user-centred design

If you’re interested in how we go about user-centered design at Made Tech, and service design and user research in particular, then our design blog, Designed and Made, should definitely be on your radar. Each week, a Made Tech design community member takes a turn to write a post that falls somewhere under the vast umbrella of all the things we talk about when we talk about design.

Some weeks that might be an account of things we learned on a client project. Others, it might be informal thinking aloud on our approach to certain kinds of problems or ways of working – like discovery and alpha phases, hiring, user research, or beyond.

Don’t be fooled by the week numbers – these aren’t week notes in the traditional sense. We like to give everyone the opportunity to talk about what’s top of mind for them. But the week numbers do keep us honest. The design community aims to post something every Friday, which they’ve so far managed every week since March 12. (So we’re up to week 34 and counting.)

For a quick flavour of the blog, and a glimpse into how we think about design at Made Tech, here are a few recent highlights. The team has written some really lovely things…

“It’s important to be comfortable with asking those silly questions.”

In her excellent post, Talking to experts when you’re not an expert, Lead User Researcher Spyri Oikonomou explains why being upfront in admitting you’re not an expert is the best approach when working with people in a new and unfamiliar field. 

It turns out this is more likely to win round, rather than alienate, those you’re working with. And it creates an atmosphere in which it’s OK to ask the kinds of apparently-simple questions that can sometimes lead to great insights. They can reveal unspoken assumptions, or give you fresh insights by approaching a problem from a new angle:

“It’s kind of impossible to probe properly and explore topics in depth when you don’t know what a term means if you’re missing the context of a comment. Kindly interrupt your conversation to ask them to elaborate or explain.”

“Great things can come from repetition”

In Discovering and re-discovering, Made Tech designer Dawn Pascall explores the theme of repetition: when it’s a problem, and – counterintuitively – when it’s actually useful. Of course, unnecessary repetition in a user’s interaction with a service isn’t a good thing. But by embracing repetition, Dawn and the team were able to gain more data on user pain-points and find new ways to address them.

To that end, Dawn has coined what one might refer to as the 4 re’s:

1. Repeat the user’s experience

2. Reiterate the issues

3. Re-read the user research

4. Rewrite the problem

(Although, if you look carefully, you might count 6 re’s.) The post is well worth a read. It’s a great example of government design principle number 4 in action: do the hard work to make it simple.

“When there is no alternative option that prevents the user from repeating manual tasks over and over again to complete a service, it’s just not user-friendly.”

“The more I can learn how my dyslexic brain works … the stronger I can build my foundations”

One of the lovely things about Designed and Made is that we often ask new team members to write for it. That was the case with our recent post Wasps and brain detectives, by designer Rich Larsen.

Here Rich talks about learning he’s dyslexic during the second year of his MA, and learning to work with the ways his brain works “to take advantage of some apparent perks” – including things like imagination, persistence and pattern recognition.

“But it’s this sort of questioning (questionable?) behaviour that made a career in design attractive to me, and a desire to be of use to people that led me to the public sector, and here to Made Tech! Though it hasn’t stopped getting me in trouble. I recently lifted the lid off a wasp’s nest in the ground. Just to see, y’know.”

Welcome to Made Tech, Rich! Harry and the people team at Made Tech have been developing a strong user-centred design capability at Made Tech – but the work is never done. Keep an eye on our open roles if you’re interested in joining the team and – if you please – writing us a blog post.

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