Why did I take this class?
I am a young professional who works as a Website Manager. I came to know about UX design through my colleagues and especially the Product Owner who I work with on a daily basis. After this, I became interested in learning more about UX and so I embarked on that journey with UX Academy in February 2018. Having done and enjoyed the Beginner Course, I thought of moving forward with the next step and I signed up to the Intermediate one to keep my adventure going.
CLASS #1 – RESEARCH
Every product in this world was made to solve a problem and make people’s lives easier. In order to develop a new idea and create a valuable product that sells, you need a problem! And here we are at our first day on the course talking about what is probably one of the most important parts of any new product – the research of the customer needs.
First we’re welcomed by the lovely Froso, our first teacher, who greets us with a big Greek smile! We slowly introduce ourselves and get to know the groups we will be working in over the next 6 weeks. It’s a small class of 9 people – great for a personalised environment which also grants more attention to each team member. You also get to be more involved in everything and are able to receive proper feedback from teachers and classmates.
I am teamed up with Matt from the USA (who I met on the second class) and Rose, a born and bred Brit. I am from Bulgaria, so it was a pretty diverse multicultural team. I’d definitely recommend UX Academy for this reason and a few more which I will come to later.
Once settled in we start the real talk about UX design and how to crack on with user research methods!
Starting your research
If you only remember one thing about UX – which you’re taught in the Beginner Course and visit again in the Intermediate – it is the famous double diamond. First we start with conducting a vast amount research where we identify a number of problems that exist. Then, we analyze them and narrow down the most important problems and prioritising them. This is the first diamond cycle closed. Once we have our top problems, we start thinking big again by brainstorming multiple solutions. You then close the second diamond by analysing the solutions and prioritising only the ones that you can actually create a prototype for and test in the real world. And now you’re done with your double diamond:
It all seems pretty straightforward and easy, right? Well, I thought so too, until I started my journey after being given our project task for the next 6 weeks.
My team and I were tasked with a financial task to:
“Explore future financial solutions that can be offered to millennials that make their life easier without going through painful processes of traditional financial organisations.”
Sounds like a great and very current problem. Initially I thought this should be an easy one, as we have so many people we can talk to and define a problem quickly. Furthermore, I feel empathy with the consumers. I am in fact one of those millennials who is struggling to manage her finances in a simple straightforward way. However, this does not mean that all the millennials out there have the same issue. So we can’t base our product on my opinion or that of my other 2 classmates. We had to apply what is called user empathy so we can walk in the shoes of our users. This involves acting as they would and see what their daily routine is like. We can then identify their problems in life.
How can we conduct research?
There are many types of research. Generative research, means we don’t have a problem to solve yet, but we need research in order to identify it. We chose to go for face to face interviews, as opposed to online questionnaires, as they are more effective. We can engage more with the interviewee and extract more information there and then. I did online questionnaires in the beginners class and gathered high volumes of data. However, the quality was not as good. For example, people may not have understood the questions fully. Whilst this is a good way if you need a lot of data quickly, qualitative data is better gathered through face to face interviews . We also took some advice on how to conduct these interviews, which I can tell you is not an easy task. Read more about techniques before you try to conduct an interview. You could test it at home in front of the mirror or with someone at home, so they can give you feedback.
Conducting the user research
Excited after all the things we’ve seen today in class, off we go to conduct our research and come back to analyse it next week. For this homework, I did 5 face to face interviews (3 male and 2 female) between the ages of 23 and 39. Collectively we came up with 6 questions to ask and elaborate on where necessary. If you wonder where to get your interviewees from – your colleagues are your best shot! You work with those guys every day, they know you, they trust you and they are more inclined to help you. Also, it’s a plus that they’re at work so you can take 10 minutes to interview each in your breaks! You, of course might have different ideas and strategies, but this is what I did and it was very useful.
I conducted the interviews by myself, meaning I had to read out the questions, listen and make notes at the same time. This can be a bit difficult and might cause you to miss some information. Don’t be afraid to ask for a person to repeat so you can write it down and read it later for your analysis! It is important that you have as much data as you can to play with and draw your problems. Happily done with my first task, I was ready for the second class where Froso was going to help us refine that data.
CLASS #2 – RESEARCH ANALYSIS & PROBLEM DEFINITION (+ FIRST ATTEMPT OF WRITING HYPOTHESIS)
With the first week behind us and only 5 more to go, I emerge in class, looking forward to seeing some clarity on what we will be designing for in the coming weeks. I meet Matt for the first time, but now Rose is missing, and still a man down, we crack on with our research analysis.
We started by writing our observations from the interviews on post-it notes. One observation per post-it note and one colour per interviewee. We ended up with a desk full of colourful notes and handwriting which only a professional detective would understand! Joke aside, we had enough data to draw observations from and saw some patterns forming in those observations. This then led us to our next team task – to make affinity maps. I personally did not know much about them, but it turned out to be quite simple exercise. We grouped the post-it notes with similar observations together, so we clearly saw the repetition of behaviour and the same problem recurring again and again. This helped us to see the patterns clearly and start thinking of the problems we could be solve.
Matt and the Affinity Mapping
Once we mapped the different groups together we had to think of our personas. These are simply the people who’d use our product and have those behaviours and financial problems that we will be solving for. We made 2 main personas as a result.
After the personas, we did yet another exercise to help us start identifying our problem, which was called jobs-to-be-done. I have never thought this way about any product I have used in my life, but this made me look at things differently. What jobs-to-be-done aims to do is tell us is that we ‘hire’ (buy) a product so it can do a job for us and if it doesn’t manage to do it, we then ‘fire’ (bin/return) the product. We all have a need first, and then we think of what product that can satisfy that need. This is how we had to think of our potential product.
Forming a hypothesis
Once we did all that it was the time to go narrow and start thinking of that problem definition and hypothesis. I tell you know, it will change! The hypothesis you write first and the problem you think you are solving for, will take shape until the last class. It just takes time and a lot of work, until you get clarity on what exactly you will be designing for. But remember that we had only 6 weeks, and all of us had full time jobs. In real life, you will have more time and resources and a full team to work on this project!
It took us a few attempts but we finally came up with what we thought was a final hypothesis statement. Little did we know that shaping the right hypothesis was a long way ahead of us…
With all that said, I had a great class full of new strategies that I learned for the first time and which I can now use at my work place and help me better plan and manage future projects.
CLASS #3 – SOLUTION PRIORITIZATION
Here we are in our third week of the intermediate course, when we are finally a full 3 members team! Exciting times! We met our second teacher – Jiri, who has also a lot of experience in the industry with various companies. I first met Jiri in the beginners class, and he’s an amazing teacher, speaker, supporter and a leader! He greets us, introduces himself, we do a little intro in return and he tells us what is next. ‘Going broad’ he says! Do you remember that double diamond in the beginning? Well, we already went broad with the research and then we went narrow with analysing the findings and our problem prioritisation. Now we have to go wild broad again with our solutions.
First of all, the problem has a few sides to it. We were aiming to keep young professionals engaged with their finances on a weekly basis in order to help them better manage them. We can look at this and ask ourselves a few questions. For instance, ‘how do we keep them engaged on a weekly basis’. Then we started throwing ideas in order to answer that question. From that course day, I learned one major thing – go wild with ideas, it will pay off!
We had to make sure that the question we asked and the solutions we were thinking of would potentially be a single feature that we will be able to prototype for and test . Will users use that prototype and think this will help them change their financial behaviour and ease their lives? It had to be measurable and it had to prove that there is a need for this product on the market. Keep this in mind, it is vital for your product.
CLASS #4 – STORYBOARDING & FINAL HYPOTHESIS STATEMENT
Week 4…..we have our research data to go back to and we have our top 3 solutions. However, we only have the time put forward one solution..
To help us narrow our solutions, we created a storyboard for us to see how the product would be used during the day in the life of a consumer. We had to think of how the user would come by the product, how they will get interested in bringing it in their life and of course what would the benefit of that be, so they keep using it in the long run. The storyboard needs to be detailed enough to be able to follow the path of the user, but still a low fidelity version. My storyboard got pretty good feedback from Jiri as being the right amount of detail. This is a very fine line, but there is no right or wrong in this case.
Once we discussed each team’s storyboards and received feedback from each other, we began to narrow our solutions again. With Jiri, every class is so active and a lot of discussions arise. Everytime I come out more confident that I am a step closer to knowing what my final project will look like. Today was one of those days again!
Narrowing it down
We wrote down a number of assumptions which we can then turn into something called leap of faith assumptions. This meant that we had to make a statement for our product which was a unique assumption about a feature or the product as a whole that no one else had proven before and we will be the first ones to prove that assumption.
To be fair, Rose and I took a long time to discuss and come up with a finalised hypothesis. I would be lying if I said it was not challenging. However, it got us thinking in all directions and helped us mobilise and work better as a team. We then had to make a prototype for week 5 based on that. Jiri helped us to think about the user and go back to our initial research and the problems we had identified. The first problem statement we came up with, sounded too generic and it could not be tested. It was something we would be able to test only after we have the full product built. Hence why we had to come up with the right feature to be tested.
For the next class every team had to create a prototype or at least one per team. Ideally, each of us would have their own prototype and we’d actually go out in the wild to test our paper or clickable prototypes.
CLASS #5 – PROTOTYPING & USER TESTING
I looked at the blank A3 paper and I had no idea where to start from. I did a paper prototype which I took pictures of and loaded onto Marvel App. Matt kindly turned it into a nice digital form which we then took out testing during the class.
In class, we had to explain the difficulties we had whilst making the prototype. For me there were two that I could highlight. First, I am not so creative. I can give opinions and feedback, I can compare, test and suggest improvements, but give me a blank sheet of paper and tell me to draw you some new feature….it is a hell of an experience! So that was tough for me to even know where to start from. Also, I had no idea how much I needed to fill the screen space with and if there was a rule on size of the text / objects / modules etc. Last but not least, I found challenging when I started linking the screens and the buttons to one another! I think it is such a spiderweb of links to so many CTAs and pages that it can become very confusing. So be careful when doing that and test it yourself first before showing to the class and the users.
Once we discussed and finalised the prototypes within the team we had to an hour to test our prototype. Pretty intimidating I have to say, but the challenge was good and we all took it on board. We came up with some interview questions, and off we went! Each of us had to do one user testing, whilst the other ones observe and take notes.
Matt went first and you could tell it was not the first time he was doing it. Then I took my turn and Rosie last. No matter how much you prepare for interviews , it’s only through practice that you will learn. I ended up speaking more than the user I was interviewing! I thought I was trying to help, but I was in fact asking leading questions. Subconsciously, I was taking her in a direction that was benefiting my project. So, the quicker you get out there doing that, the faster you will learn!
Once we got back we discussed the findings and how we felt the user testing went. I realised, how difficult it is and how me as an interviewer can influence and hence affect the results. I learned the importance of user testing and asking the right questions. Also, I need to learn to be unbiased and pretend the prototype is not mine, so users give me honest feedback. There are so many things you’d need to know about this stage. However, you can only learn them by doing many interviews. And the best thing about this intermediate course was that it gave us this real life opportunity.
CLASS #6 – ANALYSIS, PRESENTATION & DATA DRIVEN DESIGN
Here we are again with Froso in our last week of the course, presenting all of our work to her. She hasn’t seen us in three weeks, so she knows nothing about our storyboards, prototypes, user testing and our findings. Each team had to do a group presentation on the full project. This included every step like the research, the final hypothesis, what obstacles we had and how we overcame them. This last session aimed to help us present to stakeholders and build our portfolio. This was very handy, as I needed some help on what I can do now with all this information
Presenting to the class
Rose and I presented for some 20 minutes in total our full project. We went step by step through the full process and the different exercises that helped us get to the final prototype. We showed the Marvel clickable version to the class. The class gave us some positive feedback which was reassuring! I think this was a good exercise again to not just present, but take notes and give feedback. We all helped each other with some tips. It is very difficult to see yourself presenting through someone else’s eyes. I suggest you to record yourself watch later to pick on the things you can improve.
With that being the last class, Froso spoke about portfolios and gave a few tips. I don’t personally have one, but I will surely be talking about this in my CV. You need to make sure you utilise every piece of information you learn and use it in future interviews or applications. We had to rush through things occasionally to get them done in time due to work commitments. However, the material was great and I think if you give more of your time to do tasks at home after work, you will go a long way! This is of course my opinion, you’re free to have yours after you try the course! Let me know how it went and I might download your product from the App store one day, who knows…. 🙂
About UX Academy Courses:
UX Academy runs evening and in-person UX design course London & conversational design. For more information on their user experience courses and VUI design courses, check out: https://myuxacademy.com/courses