Have you ever asked yourself: “Why the heck everything is going wrong today?”, “Why is this simple task causing me so many troubles?!“.
Well, since I started working, that’s my everyday life. And while the frustration was badly affecting my confidence, I have found myself tired of feeling guilty and started thinking if there is actually a problem not only with me but also with the environment I am surrounded by.
Here it comes helping the UCD (user-centered design) way of thinking!
What is UCD?
In brief, it is a structured method of analysis and study meant to solve problems in every area of life, finding solutions based on the ultimate needs of users.
In fact, as part of it, there are plenty of books (first of all the gold “The design of everyday things” by Donald Norman), texts, conferences, workshops, and videos which show you and explain why exactly all of us at least once in the life find ourselves in trouble on solving the easiest task ever (like intuitively opening a door in the right direction); and the answer is that most of the time something around us is not designed based on the goals of real users.
Let’s take for instance a photo my teacher once showed me:
As you can see, the footpaths were designed to be harmonious with the surrounding, but nobody thought if those would have been eventually right for the everyday use of people who walk on it. Funny, isn’t?
1. The everyday life
Since I came to Ireland I have worked as a sale assistant in different shops. Last week, in one of the busiest day, since I have started working in my current store, without even realize it, I forgot to complete a task which had terrible consequences for my manager; i.e. a picky customer, totally infuriated.
The time she came to retire a collection of an online order, I was supposed to look at the order numbers’ string printed on the label of the package, insert it in the computer which is connected to the main system, following the steps and consign the order to the customer. Easy right?
Now, let’s analyze the situation.
As it was very busy, there were:
- 6 of us on the floor, each busy with helping different customers.
- A long queue waiting to be served at the tills.
Also, we have got:
- 4 tills in total
- 1 computer to explore the main system
As I don’t exactly remember how my inattention might have been caused, there are different possible scenarios, but the most credible one is that after I grabbed the package in the dedicated room, I went to the computer BUT it was already occupied by one of my colleagues who was serving another customer. Because of the crowd and the time she was taking on using the pc, I probably left a note for myself (which later I totally forget about), given the package to the lady and ran to help the next customer.
All of this in less than 2 minutes. Hurry, HURRY, H – U – R – R – Y!
3. User problem
Consequences: the system couldn’t recognize that the package was already consigned, and it kept sending e-mails to the customer advising that her order was still ready to be collected. The lady visited the shops more than once to show the problem and at first, nobody could understand it and find a solution.
Don’t know exactly how and why, but it seems she complained a lot, giving a hard time to my manager.
After being scolded and advised that measures will be taken for my position, I came home a lot frustrated, feeling guilty and sorry for all the troubles I caused (without even knowing how I did it)!!
5. Searching for problems
Apart from my inattention, was everything really caused by me?
I started wondering: if my actions are so impacting, why there are no ways to double check everything we do is actually right?!
Going deep on this thought I realized that yes, there are many ways to improve the surrounding to a more effective one.
6. The problem to be solved
For instance, analyzing further the same situation, I actually discovered that the main problem is that we have got ONLY ONE COMPUTER, which is the center of our researching and the only way to confirm several operations.
So why there is only one we can use when there are at least 6 people who might need it at the same moment? The previous situation could’ve easily avoided:
- Giving to the staff more than one computer to be used
- Improving the 4 tills in the way these can cover most of the crucial operations a standard sale assistant must complete during the day
In a nutshell:
Structure the shop based on how the workers might need it, with the aim of increasing the speed of service, and decreasing complains from customers (and a lot of headaches!).
Thinking on how your employees (i.e. the users) might deal with the main tools in the most intuitive way possible, instead of forcing them on learning how to use those, is, in fact, the easiest way to keep them efficient and happy.
8. Designing method
This is the first phase of the UCD process, which is meant to understand needs and context of use; the next steps then would be focused on gathering all the requirements and designing the best solution through the UCD methods.
Also, I could stay here listing other possible improvements to plenty of tools we have been provided, thanks to which I found myself in troubles in many circumstances, but because we are at the end of the article, let’s finish it.
Just know that this is how you could avoid being fired thanks to the user-centered design.