I recently had the pleasure of participating in a design workshop for a client hosted by Kim Crawford. We explored a number of aspects ranging from what the priorities are, to who will be using our software to the way they visual/think about their process. We had great participation, and I am excited to see what Kim is able to do with the synthesis and design process!
Now, I am not a designer (at least not primarily), and I am not our current client, so why was I in the design workshop? There are a couple of obvious reasons : To ask clarifying questions, to get a better understanding of the design process, and, possibly most importantly, to take notes on the conversation as they happened. These are certainly valuable enough, but I want to point out some less obvious benefits that I observed upon reflection.
You can hear how the user conceptualizes their workflow.
The first big benefit is that, as a developer, you get to hear the workflow from the user’s mouth. You are getting their first-hand perspective on how they work. The order of operation is important, and it is crucial to understand their process.
This is a perfect opportunity to make sure you are accounting for all of their processing. If the client needs custom software, chances are their process is complex. In a complex process, it is easy to overlook or under-emphasize critical work. This could be from the client assuming we can’t incorporate the process into the software or due to oversight in the previous background work. Either way, we should capture this information so we can either make it easier or plan accordingly.
Once you know how they work and what the complete process is, then you can start looking at the technical side of enabling these goals. Further, where can we optimize and remove steps no longer needed? That work can come later, but this is the perfect opportunity to talk with your users now. The earlier you plant these seeds, the more they can help you radically organize and optimize their process.
You can listen for previously unknown users.
Now, we’ve looked at understanding how your user thinks of their workflow. But, what if that doesn’t encapsulate all of your users? It may seem wild, but it is certainly possible that, in researching your users, one (or more) gets missed.
In our recent workshop, we had an entire persona completely unaccounted for! How you may ask? We were focused on understanding the data and workflow process, without digging into how the data was initially entered into the system (a manual process). In discussing ways our solution could potentially accelerate the initial stages of their workflow, our client mentioned this user. Immediately, we were curious who this user was and what their role was in the big picture. Turns out, this user does the initial data entry and a number of other important processes we want to capture. This was a huge win for both us and the client because we can more accurately design for this user.
You can foster direct relationships with primary users.
Lastly, this is the best chance to meet directly with your users. It’s often easier to funnel all communication through your one trusted product owner, but, by using this method, you are possibly missing one of the best and fastest feedback loops. Users in the design workshop are the primary users and the most knowledgeable. Getting to know them and their work means you can have intentional, direct communication with these users, and that will show your willingness to deeply learn the process and problems. You are invested in each individual. This will help with the process and help you create more insightful designs.
Why join a design workshop?
If you get the opportunity to join a design workflow, DO IT! It is intensely insightful. You will understand not only the problems at hand but also the user who will be working with this software. Take the time to understand what the process is. Dig into the workflow to confirm you have the whole picture so you can help radically organize and optimize. Make sure you know about all the potential types of users. It can be important to stay laser-focused, but capturing all use cases is crucial. And, meet your users so you can work with them to build relationships and invest in this understanding.