Andy Vitale, Lead Interaction Designer at 3M Health Care, answers your questions from our recent online panel. ICYMI, you can listen to the recording here!
How do you apply UX research? Can you elaborate on the types of research you do most often, and why?
At 3M Health Care, research is an important part of our UX design process. While the research methods we use vary from project to project, the focus is always on designing for end users. Because of this, we primarily perform ethnographic research. We are fortunate to have access to large groups of users and it’s important that we go out and observe them where they live and work, to see them interacting with our product where they are most comfortable.
No matter what our research goal, when we are on-site we always perform user observations. Observations allow us to see first hand how users actually interact with our solutions and understand why they make certain decisions. There is great value in observing their process and workflow as well as their emotions while performing specific tasks.
Contextual inquiry is another key research method we use. If the work users are doing allows, we will ask them questions while they are performing tasks to gain insight into the reasoning behind their actions. If it is too critical to interrupt, as can be the case in healthcare sometimes, then we perform 1-on-1 user interviews after we have observed them. If time is a factor then we may conduct a focus group, but ultimately we’d like that 1-on-1 interaction. We also have access to vast amounts of marketing and insights research, which includes voice of customer (VOC) research previously performed by our business colleagues.
Are there types of research that you wish you could do, but given resources aren’t able to?
Working for a global company like 3M, we have many users and stakeholders in multiple geographic locations. The reality, however, is that there are constraints on time management and project prioritization…we can only work on so many things at one time. Our team is still growing, and we support multiple projects across all six divisions of 3M’s Health Care Business Group. With that said, we need to prioritize our projects and optimize our time so we are able to make the largest impact on the products we are working on. We often rely on remote user testing sessions because they enable access to users we are involving in concept validation during our design sprints; this helps save time. In an ideal world, it would be great to have additional resources dedicated to performing more on-site, moderated usability testing sessions. I anticipate this will happen in the future.
As you go into strategy, can you share with us how you’ve learned different tools such as persona work or journey mapping?
I feel that one of the roles of a designer is to constantly evolve by learning and doing and there is plenty of opportunity to do both. I gained my foundational learning in school, where I learned not only how to use software applications but, most importantly, I learned about design theories and the foundational principles of design. The theoretical knowledge transcends print and digital, as it can be applied to any design discipline. As design disciplines mature and the tools used to create design deliverables constantly evolve, such foundational understanding is critical.
In order to grow, designers should keep learning and adding new tools to their toolbox. There are many ways to learn about these new tools, principles, and deliverables as well as stay on top of the latest design trends. The design community is a sharing community and there are always great articles, case studies or examples to learn from.
It’s also a good idea to add to your foundational learning with ongoing education. Once you learn about tools such as personas or journey maps, or any tools really, you have to hone these skills by practicing them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Through practical application I have learned what tools work best in what situations, what aides me in telling the best story and what is both easy to understand and digestible for my stakeholders.
As a UX lead I’m sure you run into situations where you aren’t relied upon as often as you’d like. Can you share how you work through that?
With 3M’s recent investments into growing the design function across the organization, there has been a greater understanding of the value of design thinking.
Between the elevated recognition of 3M Design and the successes of our UX team, we are getting involved earlier in more and more projects. My team is small and we support multiple projects across all six divisions of 3M Health Care so we can’t support every project yet. For those projects we still try to have our design team manage any external partners that might be playing a design role in order to maintain consistency across brand, behaviour and styling.
We are fortunate to have a Health Care Design Officer who connects with each division’s executive management tier (business, technical, marketing, regulatory, etc.), while we connect with cross-functional counterparts at other levels and entry points simultaneously. This allows us to have multiple points of influence as opposed to an all top-down or bottom-up approach. Taking a 360 approach to education and engagement allows us to reinforce relevance and accelerates opportunities for future project work with a seat at the table.
There will still be times when you just have to bring your own seat to the table. More importantly than just being at the table, you have to be able to add value. Value comes from being able to build awareness, understanding, and advocacy.
How do you help engender a culture of UX within the organization?
In an organization with the size and history of 3M, it’s more about integrating UX and that user-centered approach into the culture than trying to change it. 3M’s culture is incredibly rich in innovation that ideas are considered from anywhere within the organization.
It’s about aligning the design strategy with the other business strategies, whether they be marketing, technical, financial, engineering, manufacturing to any other.
UX design is a powerful tool to help identify ways to meaningfully improve the current state, focusing on identifying and understanding the user, and empathizing with them by identifying their desired behaviours, pain points and emotions. We always want to be collaborating –integrating our process into theirs. The best way to do that is through educating members of the organization in other functions on the value of design.
Having the ability to educate and evangelize is a great opportunity for designers. It has to be more than just talking about UX, we have to collaborate with our colleagues and help them effectively tell their story. Designers need to provide value through execution and having those successes work their way up the ladder. When colleagues and leadership are talking about how important design is to the organization the cultural piece will happen naturally.