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Earlier this month, a few of us from the user research team went on a seaside field trip for UX Brighton. The conference theme was ‘Advancing Research’, a topic very relevant to our work at dxw digital, so here are a few thoughts from the conference.

1. We need to go beyond user needs 

Whilst the concept has been uber-helpful for promoting user-centric thinking in government – there is MUCH more to user-centric design than User Needs. As someone who has moved from doing UCD in other parts of the public as well as private sector – I remember first encountering the GDS Service Standard and finding it’s emphasis on User Needs to be too reductive, prescriptive and to be honest a little strange. So it was refreshing to hear that Will Myddleton from the Home Office shares this view, and is coaching his team of researchers to think more broadly. This means thinking about (and seeking to understand) users as complex multi-dimensional humans. It means avoiding falling into the trap of collecting and storing user needs like football stickers. As leaders in research and design we need to be thinking beyond needs and seek to understand users as whole – their contexts, capabilities, tasks, emotions, behaviours, goals and pain points. Only by doing this will we design truly user-centric services. Will’s talk today has given me renewed energy and confidence to push beyond the points in the Service Standard and apply best-practice and thinking from wider industry.

2. Getting creative with discovery research

Exploratory interviews are something of a default in discovery research, and they are great. But in Emma Boulton’s talk on treating discovery as an expedition she shared loads of nice ideas for breaking out of the box and doing fun and interesting things at this phase. How about:

  • Gamification with cards
  • Group mood boarding
  • Time Machine
  • Drawing exercises
  • Ask participants to bring an item and discuss
  • Setting pre-tasks, like a diary study

These projective and enabling techniques can help us get the richest insights from our precious time with users. And what’s more, they keep the work fun and interesting for us researchers. Can’t wait to give some of these a go in my practice.

3. The pressing need for design-thinking at a strategic level

James Woudhuysen closed the conference with a big talk on some big ideas. He’s a name I remember from my days in the construction industry, so I was pretty surprised to see him on the bill here. But his experience and thinking about the future are broad, and his talk was inspiring and humorous in equal measure.

One of the many ideas he talked about was ‘a crisis of legitimacy and leadership’.  And in addressing this he painted a picture of a future where ‘UXers’ (and the like) are called upon more and more to help organisations set direction, and apply technology critically. Where they move up to Chief Design Officers and are given greater influence at a strategic level. This sounds like a bright future to me.


Also published on Medium.

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