Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner: Keeping User Needs Top of Mind During Design

We’ve all been there.

You cleared the first hurdle of convincing your colleagues and stakeholders that user profiles and personas are indispensible to the design process. You dove into the available research, and found ways to do your own surveys, interviews, focus groups or other methods to get into the headspace of your target audiences. You poured your heart into crafting detailed and evidence-based personas or archetypes, bringing your end users to life and introducing them lovingly to the team. John, Sally and Sam are so real to you that you think you recognize them on the street on the way home.  You wear a flush of excitement about the upcoming design work and the promise of inspired design ideas and easy client sign-offs – all based on user needs. You’re having the time of your life.

Design phase starts. Wireframe reviews begin. You and your team say things like “This wouldn’t work for Sally” or “Sam might not need this feature”. Hooray! Just like you’d dreamed! You amazing UX genius, you! You used the tool and it’s working!

Fast-forward a few weeks into grueling design work and rounds of wireframe revisions. The discussions become about the minutia: whether the button should be left aligned or right, or whether the process should be 4 steps or 3. You and your team know each other pretty well now, and can anticipate each other’s concerns, so you start modifying your presentation of the design work based on this. Your core team has forgotten Sally and John’s names because they only cared about Sam to begin with, and the entire team has resorted to saying “I think” instead of “Sally, John and Sam need…”.

You’ve put Baby in a corner.

So how do you prevent this? All your best intentions are for naught if your users get forgotten during design. What can you do to ensure your team continues to advocate for user needs? Here are a few lighthearted ideas:

1. Make your users actually visible during design

Life-size visible. Print out life-size cutouts of the users and put them in the meeting room. Have one of these life-size stand-ins in high-five pose right by the door so you can slap his/her hand on the way in and out of meetings. Put another cutout by the coffee maker. Put these anywhere your team hangs out! The users can’t be there in person, so you need to find a way to make it feel like they are actually part of your team.

2. If you can’t go big, go small

Lego figurines representing each target audience, miniature cutouts, buttons for each persona… anything you can leave on the table, literally, so when you are reviewing work together you have a visual reminder of the users in front of you.

3. Play the “user group of 1” game

You know this game, right? I say, “Well I think users want x”. And your client says, “Users really want y”. What we are both doing is playing the role of the user group – based on one individual opinion. You’ve substituted in your own perspective disguised as “the user” – in a sense making yourself into a user group of 1.

So let’s make this more fun. Each time someone uses a generic “users like this” statement, pound the table and exclaim “Which user?” Then give yourself 5 points. Try not to be too sanctimonious – don’t give UX-ers a bad name! Whoever has the most points at the end of each week gets free Timbits from the team.

4. Include a headshot from each persona on each relevant wireframe

Just a wee one, off to the side, but indicating which users each screen is being designed for can help bring the users back into focus.

5. Trade roles

Have each person in the room put their business cards on the table, and add fake cards for each persona. Then each person randomly picks a card, and spends the rest of the meeting trying to review design work from the perspective of the card they’ve chosen. This means at least one person in the room will represent Sally, one will represent John, and one will cover Sam. You’ll of course need to make sure the extra roles are also considered (don’t worry, if your client thinks their needs are not being addressed they will likely speak up).

Make it goofy, make it fun – it doesn’t need to be preachy to make a point. The more you can remind your team who you are designing for, the more likely you are to find creative and effective ways to thrill your end users.

The key is to get Baby out of the corner and into the spotlight – right up until the glorious end with that spectacular lift. What a feeling! Oh wait, that’s a different movie…

Have your own ideas for keeping users top of mind? Let us know in the comments below!