Beyond a few input screens, holistic design is a wicked problem. You must be mindful of several details like the color palette, right font, animations, transitions, dialogs, copy, navigation, system architecture and so on. But there’s a way to make it work.

And generating ideas along with your users is key to it.

Here are some simple guidelines that will let you get the information you need.

Wicked Problems

While system design problems are by no means trivial. Budget limitations, business and technical constraints complicate the action framework. It is unrealistic to expect a lonesome designer to just “take care of it.”

When we explore these complications and solve only one aspect of them, we create more problems. The interdependence of the factors that created them in the first place makes it so.

For example, if a pizza place wants to introduce the ability to place an order through its official app, this would create new challenges for people in distribution, the kitchen, marketing, and purchasing, to mention just a few. It would be certainly be different even for the users themselves.

How would they create their own combinations of ingredients? Can they also cancel the order online? What happens if the user does not have cash upon delivery? Suddenly, the idea of ordering pizzas online does not seem so easy, does it?

Solving these complex problems requires the involvement of a whole team of collaborators from different areas. Developers, product managers, marketers, customer service, information architects, testers, and even the end-users themselves.

And, yes, it is possible to gather them all to jointly explore and solve these so-called “wicked problems.”

Working Together to Understand

We use the Generative Research approach,

“With this approach you invite people to a series of collaborative activities. By using tangible artifacts to represent aspects of their personal experiences, they will generate meaningful insights of the issue you want to explore.”

The objective of this type of research is to generate a broader understanding of the problem to be solved. We want to hear about our users lifestyle, how they think and live, about their emotions, frustrations, and expectations.

However, many of us have a hard time finding the right words to to convey such a wide range of emotions.

The Generative Research approach assumes that individuals are not merely passive consumers of a product. It recognizes that human beings are intuitively looking for creative and meaningful experiences with the products they use.

People are the actual experts in describing their own life experiences. The hard part is making sure they verbalize these nuances as a coherent story about what they perceive and need.

Designer as Facilitator

A paradigm switch is required: users are now the experts and they know it. Designers can no longer pretend to have a full grasp of every solution in advance. A good designer first makes sure that he understands the problem well before even thinking of designing a solution. Full understanding is achieved after the right methodology is applied to the right users.

Let’s look at the key steps to facilitate a workshop on Generative Research,

  1. The first step in any research is to take it seriously. Try to be open-minded, ask open-ended questions, and don’t judge the responses of the participants.
  2. Formulate a hypothesis regarding the problem you are trying to explore. At this point we do not know exactly what causes the problem we face. We want to discover what is really going on. Thinking of solutions only disrupts the process of discovery.
  3. Based on your assumptions, plan the activities for the workshop. Assign time slots to each activity. Define the results you expect to obtain. There is no master formula. The only factor to take into account is that you use tangible objects to help the participants express their ideas. They can be plastic figures, sticky notes, geometrical shapes, etc. Take advantage of the fact that people are naturally creative and prone to sharing their experiences. Try it! It’s just like playing with your toys again.
  4. Lead the workshop. You could be the moderator, but make sure you have one or more assistants. They will help you manage the people, solve their questions, and take notes.
  5. Typical workshop duration is from 2 to 3 hours. Since these are exhaustive workshops, remember to stop for short breaks to allow participants to catch a breath.
  6. During the workshop,
    • Use your communication skills.
    • Explain instructions and then be silent. Actively listen and observe.
    • Empathize with the participants.
    • Identify thought leaders and opponents in the group.
    • Record everything that happens in the meeting, with video if possible.
  7. Interpret results using an affinity diagram,
    • Write down the comments on sticky notes.
    • Paste them onto a wall.
    • Invite people from other areas, including users.
    • Toss irrelevant findings.
    • Choose outstanding ideas and unexpected discoveries.
    • Aggregate similar ideas.
    • Look for behavioral patterns and emerging problems.
  8. For all the problems that you found, try to answer the following question: how can we solve it? Brainstorm with your team to connect as many dots as possible.

These ideas will convey your design and will give you the confidence to take important decisions. document the findings as a story. For example, on a storyboard.

The Path to Certainty

The conclusions you will get from these interactions will be huge. It comes directly from the source, without intermediaries. The challenge is interpreting and translating it into effective solutions.

You will realize that your decisions are appropriate and your questions are cleared. It is impossible to speak of UX without researching users first.

As designers, we are only facilitators of tools and creators of meaning. Our duty is to understand, and then create.

You can see a case study of this type of research in the UX Clinic Generative episode dedicated to research.