The future of tech depends on our technology feeling less and less like tech. As users are surrounded by devices and software as a part of their daily tasks, they expect their technology to be easy to use and a delightful experience.
We can no longer tell users to “just read the documentation” to use a software application. The future is not only usefulness and usability — but a desirable and delightful experience.
Pablo Picasso famously said:
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
So I said yes to leading a User Interface workshop for a group of 20 high school girls as part of the ChickTech OC High School Kick off event. The event exposes high school girls to technology fields in the hopes of igniting a spark of curiosity for a career in STEAM. My employer at the time was a partner with ChickTech OC, so they asked if I’d be willing to give up the weekend before Thanksgiving plus the time it would take to prepare a curriculum.
I was overjoyed to volunteer. Distilling User Experience down to a two day workshop was a challenging exercise because User Experience Designers wear so many hats. The challenge I set for myself was to be as informative as possible in 15 minute chunks of lecture, but then provide as much hands-on time as possible for the students.
Therefore, after a brief introduction of “what is design?” and how do UXDs do their jobs, we broke out the double diamond design thinking. We discussed a brief and how designers know what to design. Because we were not working for a client, the students could solve any problem they wanted. We offered two suggestions to get them thinking, but many students were quick with the ideas.
For the purposes of this example, let’s follow the group that chose to solve the scheduling problem for all school activities. There are so many activities for high school students to keep track of today, so how can technology help these students?
It was time do some research. It just so happens that in a room of high school students, we had candidates that fit our proto-persona. So we were ready to interview each other and truly understand the problem from multiple sides. Who are we designing for? What are their needs? Hopes, dreams, fears? How can we really ‘wow’ this user by truly understanding this user?
The teams broke into pairs and asked each other interview questions. They started with broad questions and worked their way to understanding the problem. What’s their life like? What’s their history? What are their interests and hobbies? What do they want to do with the experience you are proposing?
Their interviewing and research led the students to their User Persona. Who was this person? What were their primary needs? Once we had a person in mind, each of the students could fill out an Empathy map to understand their user’s thoughts, feelings, frustrations and ‘wow moments.’
My favorite part of this exercise is seeing the themes and clusters of answers arise among the young student designers. Just like adult designers who have been working in this field for years, there is this sense of moving toward a solution when you fill in empathy maps. This is the stage where the students started to feel this graphic in action:
We discussed Insight statements that led to the “how might we” discussion. How might we solve this stress of over-scheduled high school students? The team decided to move forward with an app that would track school plays, sporting events, important homework deadlines, and even personal appointments among friends. To differentiate between this app and other calendar apps, it would run through the school activities office for the majority of the dates, so students are always up to date with the latest scheduling changes.
Day 1 ended with starting to ideate the “how might we” question. The teams each drew out storyboards to explain 1) the user’s situation where they encounter the problem 2) how the user turns to your app 3) the Big Win they get from using your app. The students chose to iterate their storyboards on a popular storyboarding website overnight — so they chose to take on homework on a Saturday. I must have done something right.
To start day 2, I taught a brief lesson on the User Interface and my co-leader spoke about sketching and why we sketch. We then released the groups to sketch some rough ideas for their app. Like many designers, the primary lesson we needed to reinforce was to keep it low fidelity. “It is like playing Pictionary,” I said, “the purpose is to communicate and earn the point — not draw anything beautiful.”
I was surprised how long the sketching portion of the class required. This portion went over time; however, I was not about to sacrifice one minute of User Testing! The sooner you can get your app into the hands of your users, the sooner you can learn from your user.
This portion of the class drew many volunteers:
The designers gave their users a task like navigate to the calendar and add an appointment, and allowed the users to make their choices. Although high school students, it became obvious to testers that we needed a lesson in confirmation bias and non-biased data gathering. Many of the users said they felt like there was a right or wrong answer that the designer wanted them to answer. Many of the students grew attached to their solutions and did not want to hear users tell them otherwise.
It was a delight to work with the future of the tech industry. Their parents asked each of them at the show and tell to explain what User Experience is. A question we UX designers know all too well. I even had one parent approach me to say, “I thought I was sending my daughter to a technology workshop, and this looks like all the stuff you do before you engage in tech.”
I smiled as I told him, “that’s an interesting observation because in the User Experience field, the future of technology is to feel as little like technology as possible. These students have only ever known the internet and personal computers, so the less it feels like interacting with tech, the more I’m probably doing my job correctly.”