Let users and their world be your guide.

Rather than trying to generate new opportunities on your own, listen to your users to give you direction.

Kyleigh Wawak

May 10, 2016

There is a lot of pressure to create new value in business today. You may be a great problem-solver, an innovator, or a creative business person. But the pace of change and range of possible solutions is overwhelming.

Make no mistake, organizations today face deep and challenging questions across every part of their business.

How do we serve customers in a new, meaningful way?
How do we take advantage of digital capabilities beyond marketing?
How do we attract and retain talent to our business?
How do we change our organization to better adapt ourselves?

Fortunately, you don’t have to tackle these questions alone. Users and their real world context will help you answer your stickiest problems. You just have to take a little time to pay attention and learn from them.

I’m not saying that you can ask your users what they want and they will tell you what you need to know. Instead, immerse yourself in their world. Spend time with them going about their business. Don’t badger them with questions. Just watch. Perhaps ask them to narrate their activities. This will provide a better sense of what’s happening and how they experience what they are doing.

You will gain a better understanding of what they value, where they struggle, and what goals they’re trying to achieve.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to learn from them is at the core of the principle, See and Experience. It’s useful whether you’re designing a new product, developing a new service, or trying to improve an internal process.

See and Experience has two goals:

  1.  Understand context
  2.  Build empathy

Context is the circumstances that form the setting of the user’s experience. The context plays a large part in influencing what users do, how they feel, and what they take away from an experience.

To understand the context, you have to pay attention, drop your preconceived notions, and see things with curiosity. Instead of thinking, “I know how people shop for groceries,” think, “I wonder how people go about their grocery shopping. What they do before, during, and after going to the store.”

Understanding context reveals unconsidered needs. It ensures you see both the big picture and the little details that make the difference between an outstanding solution and a useless one. Make no mistake, how people think about a well-known activity is very different than what really happens during that activity.

Empathy is the second goal. It means you feel what someone else’s experience is like and understand that perspective. Building empathy is incredibly valuable because now you can solve users’ actual problems rather than guessing or assuming what they might need.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking “sympathy” is what you’re after. Feeling sorry for users is very different than feeling and understanding their experience; there is no judgement involved.

The best way to empathize is to do the same activity your user does. Let’s look at an awesome example.

See it to learn more.

Jordan and Dave started a project aimed at improving facial cleansing. But it turns out the two men had a somewhat narrow understanding of the purpose and utility of facial cleansing. How should they proceed?

In a See and Experience mode, Jordan and Dave recruit a number of make-up wearing women (and men!) and schedule a time to come to their homes for 45 minutes or so. During their visits, they get a “show-and-tell” from their participants rather than asking them a lot of questions.

The participants put on their makeup and wash their faces as if Jordan and Dave were not there. Jordan and Dave pay attention, make notes, take pictures, and, yes, after a lot of demonstration, ask a few clarifying questions.

By watching people go through their makeup removal routine, Jordan and Dave learn a lot. They gain an understanding of context. They see and better understand how people use and store products and tools. They see what the face-washing space looks like, how big of a mess is created, and so forth.

It also enables them to identify tools and behaviors of the routine that individuals may not tell you about because they don’t realize they are doing it, or they don’t think it would be important to you. 

Certainly spending time with people has helped Jordan and Dave, but how could they gain even more empathy?

Experience it to build empathy.

Watching someone remove makeup is one thing. Removing your own makeup is another. But what if you’ve never worn makeup before? How could you ever understand what it’s really like without trying it yourself?

Jordan and Dave did the right thing. They swallowed their manly pride and bought some makeup. They then recruited a few colleagues to teach them how to use it.

I was there when the session was over. Jordana emerged in all her glory. Davona was equally stunning. While the end goal was to understand what it was like to remove makeup, the empathy building began immediately: “I feel like I have a mask on,” “I’m worried about smudging it and having to touch up,” “How am I going to get this off?”

By the end of the day Dave and Jordan felt what it was like to come home after a long day and clean their face. They were tired and didn’t want a hassle. They thought about sleeping in it and waiting for the shower in the morning.

Now, armed with facial-cleaning products, they began the final part of their journey.

They cleaned their faces.

Building empathy means that you understand the experience as your experience, not just their experience.

Your users are your greatest asset.

Next time you’re in the position to create something new, create a rock-solid foundation and use See and Experience to learn from your users and their world.

Don’t sit at your desk or just conduct a few internal brainstorms. When you take the time to understand the problem from the user’s perspective, you’ll find that it’s easier to understand where the real opportunities lie, and to design more effective solutions.


About Kyleigh Wawak

As a design researcher for Ignite, Kyleigh helps Salesforce customers understand their customers' needs and pains to define opportunities and guide solutions that drive digital transformation. Prior to joining Salesforce, Kyleigh worked in innovation for six years as a culinary designer creating new food and beverage products, identifying new market opportunities, and uncovering insights about the way people live, eat, and shop. She's passionate about inspiring teams to look at their challenges from different angles and taking new approaches to solve them.

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